Last week MTVNews.com ran an interview I conducted with Patrice Desilets, creative director of Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed.”
I left something out of that story.
I left out the secret.
“Assassin’s” players know the secret. Even some people who don’t have the game know what it is. But where did the secret come from? Who thought it up? Who was privy to it prior to the game’s release?
And did Kristen Bell really ruin everything?
Well, first of all, Desilets told me, there wasn’t always going to be a secret.
“Assassin’s” players learn just minutes into the game that this game is really about a man named Desmond who lives in thoroughly modern times and is being forced to recall exploits of his ancestor, Altair. The ancestor’s exploits comprise the main playable missions of the game. The Desmond sequences stitch those missions together.
The flashback-storytelling device was planned for “Assassin’s Creed” since early in the game’s development. But, Desilets said, “at first it wasn’t in the present.” The game initially was going to feature someone in the past, possibly someone living in Altair’s time, recounting the assassinations. Then Desilets changed his mind. “I read something about a guy going into his memories and having a flashback of his ancestors. I thought we could do that [as a] science fiction twist. We could do a historical theme, but we could have something different.”
OK, but who knew about this twist? I asked Desilets if he had studied the build-up to the release of “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.” That game was masterminded by Konami’s Hideo Kojima and doesn’t really star the main character fans of the franchise expected it to. “Do you know how they did that?” Desilets asked me. “Kojima-san didn’t tell anyone.” And Desilets did the same? Nope. “Our marketing team knew.”
If a lot of people knew, then surely there would be leaks. And there was at least one of significance. It didn’t come from developers: “Here on the team it was pretty easy to not let people talk because we were proud of it.” It didn’t come from reporters: “Some people in the media knew and didn’t talk and that was great.” It came from one of the game’s voice actors, the afore-mentioned Ms. Bell. “Then Kristen said something,” Desilets recalled.
Oh, did she ever.
After seven months of complete secrecy on the part of the “AC” developers. After seven months of refusing to acknowledge the computer-code writing that flashed across screenshots and videos of an otherwise convincingly medieval setting. After all that, this is former Veronica Mars TV sleuth Kristen Bell failing to preserve the “Assassin’s Creed’ mystery during an IGN interview that was published in December of last year:
Bell: Yeah, I actually have one coming out for Ubisoft. I don’t know what the date is; sometime next year. It’s called ’Assassin’s Creed.’ You can check it out at assassinscreed.com. It’s actually really interesting to me. It’s sort of based on the research that’s sort of happening now, about the fact that your genes might be able to hold memory. And you could argue semantics and say it’s instinct, but how does a baby bird know to eat a worm, as opposed to a cockroach, if its parents don’t show it? And it’s about this science company trying to, Matrix-style, go into people’s brains and find out an ancestor who used to be an assassin, and sort of locate who that person is. It’s very, very cool, and I’ve seen all the graphics for it. We just recorded all the dialogue and did all the face scans and body scans, and I’m really excited about it.
Desilets told me he wasn’t that shaken up about it. “It wasn’t that clear.” It didn’t give it all away. “Until you play the game you don’t know.”
Lots of people tried to get Desiles to let them know. And he just wouldn’t say. “I just love that we have the secret,” he said. “It was fun for me to talk to people who just wanted to know. It’s really revealing of human nature. As soon as you say ’I know something and you don’t,’ it drives some people crazy.” Could people wring it out of him? Of course not. He told anyone who badgered him that they would have to wait.
Desilets and I talked a bit about the positive critical response but mediocre sales for his last major project, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” and whether he worried that the same high hype and flat sales could afflict “Assassin’s Creed.” He thinks the longer publicity cycle for “Assassin’s Creed” — showing it at two consecutive E3’s — will benefit the newer game. He thinks the opportunity to play as an assassin, a more enticing role than being a prince, will help. And he thinks the secret gives the game a boost. It has kept people guessing. He thinks it has kept them interested.
And, hey, that secret is handy because it opens multiple paths to possible sequels. Can’t the flashback device be used to justify a game set in any era? Can’t Desmond think about ancestors from the 1730s or 1980s in a future “Creed” game? “The real story is Desmond’s story,” Desilets said. “Why are you stuck in a room going back to assassin’s life? If we ever do a sequel… there is nothing that prevents us from going anywhere.”
But like any good game developer, he has to add a caveat, to keep things, well, secret. Momentary pause. Then the comment: “If we were to do more.”