Assassin's Creed : Interview with Jade Raymond
- Producer at Ubisoft Montreal -

October 2006

Jade Raymond

English version
Pour la version française, cliquez ici.

Jade Raymond, producer at Ubisoft Montreal, was kind enough to answer some of our questions concerning their upcoming game : Assassin's Creed.

Xbox Gazette : Can you give us some details about your previous games ?
Jade Raymond : Yes of course, first, I was programmer on a bunch of games at Sony like Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit. I started the development on a Charlie's Angel game but it never shipped. I was producer on a massively multiplayer game called "There" and finally was the producer on The Sims online before coming to Ubisoft.

Xbox Gazette : How long has Assassin's Creed been in development ? Can you present the main designers?
Jade Raymond : Assassin's Creed has been in development for over two years. Immediately after shipping Prince of Persia the sands of time a small core team was given the mandate to create a new IP specifically designed to take advantage of next-gen hardware. Patrice Desilets: Creative Director, David Chateauneuf Level Design Director, Alex Drouin Animation Director and Richard Dumas Lead Gameplay programmer already had a ton of ideas of where they wanted to take next gen gameplay. Claude Langlais and Dominic Couture who led the technology for Sands of time had their own vision for the engine and tools of the future. The fact these people as well as other core members from The Sands of Time had already worked together means that they were up and running with a long list of ideas to prototype from day one. I joined the team a few months into conception to help give more focus to the team's pre-production efforts, add a little more structure to the milestones and build out the team. While the core team is same core team from The Sands of Time we have also added specialists from other teams at Ubisoft and the Game industry at large. Ubisoft asked us to redefine the action genre for the next-generation of consoles and the only way to achieve such an ambitious goal is to put together the right team: People who have proven that they can work together to deliver a hit as well as experts with diverse backgrounds.

Xbox Gazette : Can you describe for our readers the principles of Assassin's Creed? What kind of game is it ?
Jade Raymond : We set the bar really high. We've taken one of the most senior teams in the industry and challenged them to redefine action gameplay for Next Generation Systems. These are our creative best, they have all worked together before and they each have over 8 years worth of ideas that they are anxious to put into practice now that the consoles have caught up. The team decided to focus on crowd and freedom of movement to deliver new emergent types of gameplay. The Crowd has been designed as a living a breathing obstacle that you can influence though your second to second actions as well as through longer term strategies. The character has over 1000 distinct moves and can interact with everything in the environment. These elements are pretty cool on their own but the magic lies in how they come together. Patrice Desilets, Assassin's Creed's creative director calls his philosophy organic design and I think it's this approach paired with the team's experience and ambition that is making the game different and great but you will have to judge for yourself when the game comes out.

Patrice Desilets
Patrice Desilets

Xbox Gazette : What were your sources of inspiration for Assassin's Creed ?
Jade Raymond : Obviously we had a lot of inspirations and references, but here's how it started: Patrice Desilets our Creative Director as well as some other key members of our Creative team read a book about the Assassins and then started to do a lot of research about the clan and the 3rd crusade. The more we discovered about these people, the more we wanted to make the game. Even the Assassin Motto "Nothing is True, Everything is permitted" fits the game medium perfectly. We developed our main character, Altair as a forward thinking missionary of sorts, on a mission to end the 3rd crusade.

Xbox Gazette : Is the game more directed towards fiction or History?
Jade Raymond : Actually the game is directed at the same time towards fiction and history. It's a speculative fiction, and it's a fun genre to work in. By grounding a story in reality, you increase its credibility. Suspension of disbelief becomes easier because it's happening in our world. You're exploring cities that still exist today - encountering infamous individuals whose names everyone knows - witnessing battles that really occurred.

At the same time, because our setting is far removed in time (this is nearly 1000 years ago), there's plenty of freedom to tweak people's personalities and motivations. It's fun to explore the idea that something else was happening beneath the information gleaned from historical textbooks. People are also fascinated by "History's Mysteries" and the Templar Treasure was ripe for exploring. What did the Templars find beneath Solomon's Temple? Why did they want it? Where is it today?

Xbox Gazette : How did your try to avoid potential religious tensions with a game focused on the crusades?
Jade Raymond : Well, we obviously did not make this game with a political agenda. First and foremost, our goal is to provide a new type of entertainment experience based on crowd gameplay and new levels of interaction with a living game environment.

This said it's important to note that historically the Assassins had their own philosophy - quite different from that of the Crusaders or the Saracens and did not alley themselves with either side. Since they were a sort of mystic secret society almost nothing about their actions or cause can be confirmed. This historic ambiguity has allowed us to portray the Assassins as a forward thinking group with the single objective to stop the war. Knowing that our subject is controversial by nature we have dealt with religion as a purely historical background element. We have worked with cultural experts throughout production to make sure that we treat sensitive topics with respect. In Assassin's Creed, Crusaders (and the Saracens) are not the Assassin's true enemy. War is - as are those who exploit it.

Xbox Gazette : Who is Altaïr, and what happened to his finger?
Jade Raymond : At the start of our game, Altair is a disgraced Master Assassin sent to kill nine men in order to end the Third Crusade. Over the course of the story, players will experience his re-induction into the order, his rise through the ranks of the Assassin Brotherhood.
His full name is Altair Ibn'La-Ahad which roughly translates into "Altair, Son of None." Orphaned as a child, he was taken in by the Assassin's and raised amongst them.
First and foremost, he has been commissioned to end the Third Crusade. To do so, he must seek out those responsible for leading and exacerbating the conflict. The targeted murder of immoral individuals is his primary method of achieving his goal. Along the way he will discover that the Crusades themselves are simply a cover for a much larger conflict - one in which he will play a pivotal role.

The mythology is that each Assassin receives this spring loaded knife during a rather violent initiation ceremony where the ring finger is cut off in order to make room for the blade. I would like to leave some aspects of the blade a mystery. Suffice to say that it is related to uncovering the truth.

There's a lot to be discovered about our hero over the course of the game. What does it really mean to be called the "Son of None?" Why do many of his enemies and allies seem to know more about him than he does? Why are they reluctant to share this information with him? Will he find the courage to conquer his personal demons and overcome his character weaknesses?

Xbox Gazette : Which weapons will Altaïr be able to use in the game?
Jade Raymond : Altair will have both melee & short range weapons. Details about this aspect of the game will be revealed later.

Xbox Gazette : There seems to be some strange distortions that appear in the trailer, and a "loading" message. Can you explain this to us?
Jade Raymond : All I can say for now right now is that as you assassinate the people responsible for the horrors of the third crusade; you also uncover a plot with much greater and far reaching implications. I don't want to reveal too much but suffice to say that the conspiracy even touches on subjects that are relevant to you and I.

Xbox Gazette : Can you describe the gameplay, and how to control the movements of the hero?
Jade Raymond : In my opinion the more game rules can mirror real-life rules, the better players are able to suspend their disbelief and be immersed in the game. With a foundation in real world rules, games can be made even more accessible to the non-gaming public because of their familiarity with those rules. The way you move your character in the environment and interact with the world surrounding you should be very intuitive. We did a lot of playtesting that informed us that players still have the need to understand "action groups" when they control the character. So we now have a hybrid system that helps the player understand the puppeteering style controls in an even clearer way. Legs, for example, are used in "Free-Running" situations and "Free-Hands in "Crowd Interaction" situations. It's the same body-part based system, rationalized to be even more intuitive, in all situations. And believe me when I say, there's a lot of situations!

Xbox Gazette : The crowd seems really important in Assassin's Creed. Can you describe its interactions and the AI?
Jade Raymond : Altair's interactions with the crowd are based on a social dynamic, meaning we want to achieve a certain level of social realism in his interactions. In most games, it's not considered unusual to run around with your gun out and no one taking any notice. In fact, the very idea of running all the time is a bit silly; no one does this in real life! Thus, Altair has two modes in the game: a socially acceptable "low profile" mode, where all his actions are modified to help him blend in socially. In the second "high profile" mode, Altair goes into all-out hero mode, but simultaneously becomes more conspicuous, possibly putting his mission at risk.

As the player progresses through the game, he has the option of helping certain groups of people. These missions are optional for the player, but they always have an impact on the social gameplay: groups of NPCs could turn from hindering the Assassin to helping him. For example, helping an order of Monks might cause a group of wandering priests to no longer call out the Assassin and warn the guards when he gets spotted. They might even go so far as allowing the player to blend in with them, giving easy access to heavily guarded areas of the city.

The crowd and the AI systems have always been a core component of the gameplay. To say that this had a huge impact on the team is an understatement: we've put a massive amount of engineering effort in realizing an AI system that makes a large medieval town come alive. We're aggressively using technologies and strategies that are truly pushing the limits of what next-gen consoles can deliver.

Xbox Gazette : How will Assassin's Creed differ from other games like Prince of Persia?
Jade Raymond : I've heard a lot of comparisons: Splinter Cell, Hitman, Shadow of Colossus, Prince of Persia, GTA, … All of these are great games so it's quite flattering but our goal with Assassin's Creed was to use the new tech to deliver new types of gameplay and a more relevant experience. If we finish our work as planned then the feel of the final game should be quite unique.

The biggest difference with Splinter Cell is that Assassin's Creed is not a stealth game. We do have a feature called social stealth. A rule that says that you are hidden as long as you are behaving in a socially acceptable way. But this rule results in a much more fast paced type of gameplay then traditional stealth that is based on staying hidden in shadow, especially since you are trying to blend into the chaos of a crowd in the midst of one the bloodiest wars in history. Besides the difference in pacing there is also a difference in the amount of freedom given to the player. We have recreated the entire Holy Land, 3 major cities as well as all of the countryside in between. The player is free to roam the countryside, explore cities, and participate in side quests and missions to help the population or complete main Assassination missions. All of these objectives can be accomplished in a variety of ways and in the order that suits the player's mood. We put a lot of emphasis on player creativity and set the whole game experience up so that you can develop your own playing style and adjust the level of difficulty and adrenaline to your liking.

Xbox Gazette : Can we travel freely from one city to another in the game?
Jade Raymond : As a matter of fact yes. Not only you'll be to able to travel freely from on city to another but we are also trying to do something a little different that was not possible before. We focused on building a character that can do over 1000 contextual moves, and paired this new freedom of movement with a highly interactive environment and crowd lets players develop their own style. Any architectural detail that sticks out more then 2 inches can be used as a hold for your hands or feet. Not only can create your own path on the rooftops you can also create your own flashy or subtle style for doing so or skip the roofs entirely and use a strategy through the crowd. Place a highly mobile and skilled Assassin in a fully interactive living environment and the possibilities are endless.

Xbox Gazette : What will the music be like? Who is the composer?
Jade Raymond : Our music composer is Jesper Kyd. Even though the action takes place in the Holy Land during the 3rd crusade, we really want the game to have very modern and cutting edge style. Our music signature aspires to be inline with the emotional & the gameplay experience that the player will live instead of concentrating on portraying a specific setting. Of course, each city will have its own style, faithful to each specific culture. But our focus is to give each location a music treatment that will represent the emotional experience the player will undergo.

Xbox Gazette : Which new possibilities do the "next gen" consoles give you for this > kind of action game? What makes AC a "next gen" game?
Jade Raymond : This game would never have been possible on the last generation of consoles. Our goal with Assassin's Creed was to use all of the Next Gen processing power to deliver a totally new game experience, focusing on interactivity and immersion. We're aiming to create a world in which the player can interact with everything and where there is no suspension of disbelief because for example some doors can be opened but other can not. We have started with the concept that the player should have full control over the Assassin's body and that the Assassin should be able to interact with the world in an intuitive and natural way. The new gameplay comes from how the living and breathing world reacts to your second to second actions. The need for artificial puzzle elements like moving walls or fire traps disappears because for the first time we can base our gameplay on social rules and the natural traps found in real cities.
So each player will be able to tune the difficulty level of the game when choosing how he behaves in the world. He will make the challenge easier if he follows the social rules and achieve all sorts of side missions prior to his main assignments or harder if he decides to create havoc in the city before completing his mission.

Xbox Gazette : Will there be any differences between the Xbox 360 and the PS3 versions of the game in terms of content?
Jade Raymond : I hate to answer in such a lame way but I can't say right now...

Xbox Gazette : Will the game have any multiplayer mode?
Jade Raymond : Assassin's Creed will not feature any multiplayer or coop modes.

Xbox Gazette : Can we expect a demo and other downloadable content on the Marketplace?
Jade Raymond : Who am I to stop you from expecting? ...But I can't confirm anything at this point in time.

Xbox Gazette : Can you explain us why Ubisoft didn't confirm the Xbox 360 version earlier?
Jade Raymond : Our ambitions with AC are high: we're aiming to deliver a completely new gameplay experience on a brand new engine. With AI, physics, animation and Graphics ambitions like ours we weren't sure how many consoles we could support. But we always wanted to share our Next-Gen vision with as many gamers as possible. We have just recently been able to prove to ourselves that we will be able to deliver on both systems without sacrificing the quality or innovation of our original concept.

Xbox Gazette : Are we going to see a sequel or more? and will they be set in a different time of history ?
Jade Raymond : It's too early to say anything about possible sequels. Right now, the whole team and all our efforts are focused on one game and that's already more than enough!

Xbox Gazette : Many thanks for your time and your answers !

Related links :

- Assassin's Creed review

- Assassin's Creed 2 review

- Assassin's Creed focus

- Assassin's Creed videos

- Assassin's Creed wallpapers

- Assassin's Creed official site

- Other Xbox 360 interviews

Max73, Xbox Gazette, October 6th 2006

Thanks to : Jade Raymond, Cédric Crausaz, Ubisoft