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The Lead Writer on Assassin's Creed Revelations talks us through the finer points of its story...
Assassin’s Creed prides itself on capturing the essence of the times it portrays, and Ubisoft creatives go to great lengths to weave the games’ stories seamlessly into the fabric of their historical settings. At a recent preview event for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, we spoke to Lead Writer Darby McDevitt about his personal approach to the multi-layered narrative of the latest title in the series, and gleaned a few hints about what to expect from the story.
What’s your role on Assassin’s Creed Revelations?
I’m Darby McDevitt, I’m the Lead writer of this game, and the Lead Writer of Assassin’s Creed: Embers, the short film that accompanies this game, which wraps up Ezio’s story totally. It’s sort of a prologue too; it takes place about twelve years after this game.
Tell us a bit about Embers, and how that ties-in with Revelations...
If you know the logic of the Assassin’s Creed games, they’re all kind of driven by Desmond’s ancestors. At any point where the ancestor has a child that leads up to Desmond, we have to stop showing the memories at that point because then the memories pass on. Embers was a way to tell a little bit of a story about Ezio’s twilight years. He gets a visit from somebody very interesting but he already has two of his children - Flavia and Marcello; a girl and a boy. In my mind it’s Flavia that leads to Desmond, so we couldn’t show this part in the game but we wanted this special moment to show fans what Ezio’s doing in old age. So that was the impetus for that.
Were you involved with the previous games as well?
I wrote Bloodlines, the PSP game, and Assassin’s Creed II: Discovery, which was an Ezio game where he - in between two memory sequences in Assassin’s Creed II - takes about an eight year gap. In that eight year gap - in a DS game - he actually goes to Spain for a while because he learns that all these Assassins in the guild there are being rounded-up by Torquemada at the insistence of Rodrigo Borgia. So he meets Ferdinand and Isabella, and meets a very arrogant Christopher Columbus who doesn’t know the conspiracies that are boiling underneath his journey to the New World.
So continuing with the story, give us an overview of where we’re at and where we’re going to with Revelations...
Well in ACII, we saw Ezio as a young man become an assassin; in Brotherhood we saw him become a master assassin and a mentor to the Italian assassins, and now in Revelations I like to say he’s on holiday. He has learned that there is a library that Altair - our first assassin - built beneath Masyaf Castle, in present day Syria, and Ezio’s curious to see what’s in this because he gathers that nobody’s been in it since Altair sealed it. So he travels to Masyaf but he finds that there are a group of Templars who once belonged to the Byzantine Empire - an anachronism, ‘Byzantine’... that word didn’t exist until a few years later, but we use it for clarity’s sake because the last game was in Rome and we don’t want ‘Eastern Rome’, that wouldn’t sound as exciting. Anyway, he finds Byzantine Templars there who are also trying to get into the library. So that’s the basis of the main motivation: Ezio wants into this library, so do the Templars and they learn very quickly that the keys have been hidden throughout Constantinople by Marco Polo’s father many hundreds of years before. So it’s just sort of a race against time to get into that library.
And at the same time, you’ve got this dual story with Desmond?
Right. The present day story has always inched along, a couple of days or weeks at a time. At the end of Brotherhood he fell into a coma, so in our game he’s in that coma and he remains in that coma for pretty much the majority of the game. So it’s all very special, interesting gameplay.
That must have been quite an interesting premise to tackle as a writer...
Yeah exactly, yeah. I kinda based it on some of my favourite writers; I get to write in a slightly different style because the experience is so different.
And he’s trapped in the Black Room, right? Tell us about that...
The White Room is the loading area for when you transition between ancestors. The Black Room is ‘below’ the White Room; it’s sort of the BIOS of the system, behind the Animus monitoring systems. In the old Assassin’s Creed, the other assassins could actually watch you play; they’re like ‘Hi Desmond, why don’t you try doing that’. But with Ezio, in this one, they can’t watch him. They have to turn off all the systems just so that the Animus will keep his brain functioning - to replicate and help support cognitive functions - because Desmond’s mind is in danger of collapsing in on itself with all these ancestors knocking about. So none of the present day characters know what he’s actually doing; all they see is a slab on a gurney and, although they know his brain’s active, they don’t know what’s going on.
So we’ve got sort of four levels here?
Yeah, although the top, top level is only slightly hinted at through whispers and things. So it’s like really we do Desmond, Ezio and Altair. But yeah, I guess there’s a fourth. So Inception - make Inception jokes.
You mentioned Altair as well – what was your approach to his part of the story?
I wanted to keep his story simple. I knew that we’d be jumping back in time, spanning a long period of his life, so I said, ‘we’ve gotta keep this simple’, and I decided to make it about just two things: the Apple of Eden, his struggles to get that Apple of Eden, and his struggles with a rival assassin and a boss. You kind of chart those two storylines and through those two storylines - and they actually involve each other - you will see Altair, the struggles he goes through to be a master; a leader of his assassins. Ultimately some decisions he makes at the end of his life will kind of inspire Ezio to make some decisions about his life.
I understand there’s also more of a story to some of the optional elements, such as recruitment?
Right, yeah. So we’ve made more unique recruit missions, so when you save people - civilians - and once you get them up to assassin level 10, a mission opens up with them, a series of missions with your assassin, where you get to know them a little better. But you also get introduced to a multiplayer character who is a Templar roaming about the city too, and I give those Templar’s a bit of back-story. My goal was to really try to make a grey area; a moral grey area. For instance, one of the Templars is a Wallachian noble - like a modern day Romanian - or rather a Wallachian assassin, who left the assassins because he was mad about the truce between the assassins and the Ottomans. He was like, ‘they attacked my homeland, they killed Vlad Tepes [Vlad the Impaler], they invaded my homeland, you know – how could these assassins create a truce with them?’ And it was a truce of convenience, you know, to keep the peace, so he just immediately left and joined the Templars. So I want to give all these Templar multiplayer characters very good reasons to be angry at the Assassins or the Ottomans, or have their own motivation. That’s something we didn’t get to do in Brotherhood; whenever you kill a multiplayer character it’s very silent, they didn’t have much dialogue, and we just wanted to step that up just a little bit.
And it’s quite extensive isn’t it? Doesn’t it continue as you loop through the levelling system?
Yeah, yeah. Well each assassin has a two-parter, up to seven assassins.
TVG would like to thank Darby McDevitt, Assassin's Creed Revelations' Lead Writer, and the Lead Writer of Assassin's Creed Embers (a short film that serves as a kind of prologue to the game) for taking the time to speak with us. Revelations is due out on November 15th for Xbox 360 and PS3, and November 29th for PC.
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