Monthly Archives: March 2015

Like Assassin’s Creed But… Part 2

A week and a bit ago I published a piece about changes which could be made to Assassin’s Creed to make these already good games even better. I said I had more suggestions to be made in a follow up article. This is the follow up article.

Like Assassin’s Creed but without The Assassins. Right. Let me explain. I always loved the assassinations, the hunting, the stalking, and the general vicious bastardry of the Assassin’s Creed game series, and I’m totally cool with these being assassination attempts by members of shady non-governmental organisations, but just because there are/were assassins throughout history doesn’t mean every single one of them was a member of The Assassins™. The monolithic Assassin/Templar battle waged throughout all of time and space is not only unrealistic, it is also boring and confusing and hella stupid. Like – how? Why? What stops these organisations changing dramatically during each generation, let alone over hundreds of years? What exactly is the goal of the Assassins? What distinguishes the Templars from plain old imperialists? So many questions. And I’m sure there are answers in the Assassin’s Creed lore but it’s all buried within pages of unrelated exposition and weird audio files that the player can find. Which leads me to my next point.

Like Assassin’s Creed but with way tighter additional content. I am not referring to DLC here. I mean the letters and hackable emails and memories scattered throughout the game. These are a nice idea but they never properly connect into the gameplay. Often the emails are about characters the player encounters, but they need to be shortened down and could be made a teeny tiny bit interactive. I’ll explain how that could be done.

Instead of just reading a whole load of hacked emails sent by other characters, the PC could get to read a few that were addressed directly to him or her-self. The player could get to send a reply if they want, chosen from a few different options. This could then affect both future emails and cut scenes/dialogue clips with other personnel. The differences don’t need to be immense, but even small consequences let the player feel engaged, like they’re shaping history in some small way. And that is what the Assassin’s Creed games are supposed to be about.

There’s a lot of temptation for developers to add more and more expository text to a game because it feels like it makes the game bigger, but when used as an info-dump, exposition actually makes the Assassin’s Creed games feel more limited, because reading all this flotsam is hard work which must either be ignored or endured, both of which leave players feeling like they missed out on some fun. If the text-based parts of the game were shortened and led to choices with small but affective consequences, then they could be turned into genuine gems. And if some of the conspiracy theory elements were removed, then that would give more space for character development.

Like Assassin’s Creed, but with better characters. For me, this is linked to cutting a lot of the Assassin/Templar jazz. There can still be a bit of conspiracy, but I’d like to see characters with more immediate desires. So maybe the main character is super focused on getting better at killing, and gets upset when he or she can’t make a clean assassination, and treats his or her job like a serious craft. And the character’s boss is a rich businessman who is obsessed with the moral failings of his rivals, and uses these as justifications for killing them. These rivals are bad people who lie and have affairs and they mistreat their servants so the world would be better off without them. The Assassin’s Creed can then be this murky justification for what is inevitably an incredibly morally dubious profession – politically motivated murder.

And the modern world computer game developer/evil megacorporation likewise doesn’t need to be a Templar cover front. The people within the company can be normal humans with flaws and virtues only one or two of whom have world-spanning ambitions. The scary truth about people working for transnationals is that they don’t mean to shape the world in their image, they just do it as part of their job. So there’s a department of Abstergo which is in a long-running sales negotiation with the Secret Service and accepts lots of money to keep their technology secret from the public and to share it with INTERPOL. The person in charge of negotiations does this because she’s going to accept a massive payoff and also because she cares so much about mastering genetic memory visualisation. This is her life’s work. She’s really good at it. And if her department gets this money then they can make six more games and will be able to keep looking into the past for ten more years. It also allows her to set up the Abstergo renewable energy and urban regeneration foundation.

Characters who make difficult moral decisions come across as far more real than plain old murderers who kill for good and murderers who kill for evil.

These are my suggestions. What are yours?

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Like Assassin’s Creed But…

The Assassin’s Creed game series is fascinating. There are great Assassins’ Creed games and sucky Assassin’s Creed games, and the debate about which are which is as fierce as it is irrelevant to this article. What I’m doing today is making a proposal. I want someone to make a game that is like the Assassin’s Creed games, but different in crucial and innovative ways. So without further ado, here are my proposals:

Like Assassin’s Creed but with fewer collectables. “Dude.” I hear the fictional objectionist in my head say. “You’re asking for there to be less content? Who are you? Peter Molyneux?”

Of course the fictional objectionist has it exactly wrong. The problem with Peter Molyneaux’s fable games wasn’t too little content, it was too much. Peter was so enthusiastic about adding more and more stuff that his team never had any time to ensure that the stuff they had made was worth playing through.

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Peter, that’s more than enough.

The trouble with Assassin’s Creed collectables is that there are so freaking many of them. Have you tried opening all the treasure chests in ACIV? Either you have, and you’ve developed OCD, or you haven’t, because opening that many chests is super-duper boring. If there were fewer chests, and the chests had more gameplay significance, then seeking and finding them would be more engaging. And, speaking of collectables;

Like Assassin’s Creed but the collectables fit into the game narrative. It niggles me that there are always things just lying around the AC world waiting to be collected by whatever jerk murderer the brotherhood has suckered into joining their unaccountable gang/political conspiracy. Yes, collecting things may make traversal of the map more interesting, and may be a somewhat fun activity in itself, but there should be an in-game reason for the collectables being there in the first place. So, here are some collectables, and the in-game justification for them being collectable, as well as some ways to make them more narratively interesting:

Song sheets. AC 4 (the pirate one) has the player chasing down sheets of music paper that float around the tops of buildings. For each one the player collects, their crew learns another sea shanty. No reason is given for these song sheets being up there and nothing happens upon collecting them apart from getting a new song for while you’re traversing the sea.

How to make them interesting. Three famous wizard-musicians have spread their magical flying song sheets over the Caribbean. Only the most adept roof-runner will be able to catch them all. Find and catch all eight sheets (not seventeen, the number in the actual game, that is ridonk) and the wizards will be suitably impressed. After getting hella drunk with them, they will teach you how to whistle to the song sheets for aid. Whenever you do this, the song sheets will float in as a cloud of whirling paper and smother the nearest enemy silently.

Treasure chests. Every Assassin’s Creed game is filled with treasure chests. They each typically contain a small amount of money. Why are they there? There is never a given reason. In later games when the interior of buildings are simulated, the justification can be simple – these are people’s valuables, inside their homes. You are stealing their stuff for your own gain. You bastard. But in the games in which the chests are out in the open, there could be a story behind them.

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Fun fact: There are 293 chests in Assassin’s Creed Unity. That is too fucking many.

How to make them interestingFitting with the conspiratorial theme of the series, the treasure chests have all been placed deliberately. A rich noblewoman has had them set up all around the city and each filled with random quantities of gold. She – or one of her assistants – occasionally checks on them to see which have been opened and which have not. Some chests contain notes suggesting to the player that there may be some kind of plan behind their existence. The treasure chest game can also be the reason there are so many people running around carrying money – they have been given money and sent running through the city by the noblewoman.

Then, when the player has opened enough chests and tackled enough runners, they get an opportunity to discover the purpose behind this strange chase, and to meet the woman who set it up. Why did she do it? Why was she not heroically murdering people or flaunting her Prostitute Heart of Gold like every other woman the PC knows? She tells him it was for science. It was to learn what people would do when given the opportunity to take free money. And then the PC can either learn a lesson or murder her like the holier-than-thou psycho he is. Or both I guess. Right, I’ve alienated everyone. NEXT POINT.

 

Like Assassin’s Creed but with hard options. This is one that I suspect more people could get behind. Assassin’s Creed is an easy game series. Apart from the original game most of them are just not challenging in any interesting way. In the newer games, the PC doesn’t even die when he touches water. Like fable, these are entire games one can play through without dying or having to load once. There are ways that one can make AC more challenging and interesting for one’s self, like trying to fulfil all of the secondary objectives for example, or turning off most of the UI, but these are not hugely satisfying. My proposal for difficulty settings is to take a mechanic from that most hated of video game developers mentioned at the top of this piece, Peter Molyneux. The mechanic I would lovingly steal wholesale is fable’s boasting system.

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Today I wrote this article with no protection, without a scratch, and I didn’t kill anyone. Except for a dog walker, but that was before I put fingers to keyboard so doesn’t count.

For those of you who haven’t played Fable or who didn’t care enough to pay attention to what was going on when they did, I shall explain. The original Fable game had a system in which the player character could climb onto a stage and tell the villager hive-mind what wonderful accomplishments he aimed to achieve. He could announce that he’ll do a quest naked for instance (removing his armour and revealing a patriotic pair of underpants), or that he’ll take no damage whatsoever. This meant that a mentally un-taxing game such as Fable could suddenly become a challenge suited to the player’s own demands. This mechanic fits perfectly with AC, in which the main character is always an arrogant show-off that any right-minded person should despise. The player character could bet that they will never lose more than one bar of health, or that they can sail the seas with the anchor down. Thus is introduced a reason for the player to avoid being detected, and a way of eliminating the ship’s insane ability to accelerate like a jet plane and practically pirouette in the midst of combat.

By taking the right boasts, sailing the seas could be made into an adventure in itself, with the player having to zigzag into headwinds and suffering immense damage if the ship hits land. How are these changes achieved? By boasting that the rudder will be cut off and the boat will be filled with explosives. The reward for taking on boasts could be a small amount of money, which gives the player the option to take on a greater challenge in order to be able to get upgrades more quickly. Or there could be some other options. Right. That’s it. I have more proposals to make but they shall have to wait until my next article.

Please do post and comment on this article. Feedback on any aspect of it is always welcome – my aim is to become such a better writer that someday I look back on pieces like this and become so embarrassed I vomit. Anyway. Until next time.

View the second, final part of my thoughts on improving the Assassin’s Creed series here.

Je suis Boris

Boris Nemstov, the fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, is dead. Shot four times in the back in the middle of Russia’s capital city. At the time, security cameras in the area were all pointed away from the scene and at the Kremlin.

Dmitry Kiselev, Russia’s closest equivalent to a Fox News anchorman, has accused the West of murdering Boris Nemstov. Specifically he accused the CIA. Kiselev says “who benefits?” His answer is the West.

There are similarities to the murder of former FSB agent Litvenenko nine years ago. An enemy of the Kremlin was murdered, and the Kremlin and Kremlin-aligned news sources blamed the West. The theory is that the enemies of Russia killed the enemies of Russia in order to weaken Russia.

Putin’s popularity stands at 86%.