One aspect of history that was touched on in Assassin’s Creed 3, and has a more prominent bearing on Black Flag, is slavery. It’s a tough subject to tackle in what is meant to be a mass-market slice of entertainment, especially since Black Flag appears to be putting Assassin’s Creed’s focus back on free-wheeling fun. McDevitt is philosophical on the issue. “Slavery is omnipresent in the game. We have plantations, and a character who was a slave some years before Black Flag begins--Edward doesn’t break him out of his bondage, that happens several years they meet. They get to know one another, they share stories, and Edward is someone who has never really thought about it. For him it has always just been a part of life.”
“What I tried to do in Black Flag was seed it into the background of every day life, but there’s no scene where the game tries to explicitly draw out sympathy for one side or the other,” continues McDevitt. “That’s a hard thing to do in such a mainstream game. I think we’ve been very honest about it, and honest about what people’s opinions would have been like. I couldn’t have written a whole abolitionist narrative running through the game, because that wouldn’t have been historically true. Although, our Assassins and Templars are both on the side of abolition, so it’s through them that we get to include a more modern viewpoint on slavery. There are explicit conversations between Templars and Assassins on slavery. It was a really difficult subject to tackle, and I hope I’ve done it as interestingly as possible. I don’t want it to feel like I’m settling debts or anything.”
"I think we've been very honest about slavery, and honest about what people's opinions of it were at the time"
Speaking of a ‘modern point of view’--we wanted to know how Black Flag was handling the modern day setting of Assassin’s Creed. After all, Desmond is ‘gone’ and the world didn’t end in 2012. So is all the first civilisation stuff getting swept under the carpet, or are we getting more Juno and Minerva? “That’s ongoing. Juno, in particular, has a clear next step, so that stuff is still there,” says McDevitt. “We are changing the way that we unfold this story, though. It’s in our best interests--and in our fans’ interests--to keep the modern day stuff more open-ended. We want to keep Assassin’s Creed games feel more self-contained both in the past and the present. Black Flag has a beginning, middle and end to its past and present day stories, but it will feel like it belongs as part of the bigger Assassin’s Creed storyline. It’s all about little episodes within an ever-expanding universe now…”
So, looks like all the modern day stuff in Black Flag will be tangential to the Desmond story. It’s unlikely to open up a whole bunch of plot threads that will take a trilogy to tie-up, which is definitely for the best. While we’re on the subject of modern day material, we can’t help but ask about the Assassin’s Creed movie. “We’re absolutely not allowed to talk about that,” say both writers, almost in unison.
"You'll find emails mentioning people taking cabs from Abstergo to the Ubisoft Montreal offices"
Okay, then. We change tactics and quiz them on why the modern day Abstergo Industries office--in Black Flag--is situated in Montreal, the same city where Ubisoft make the Assassin’s Creed games every year. “Ha! I’m not trying to say anything about Ubisoft!” laughs McDevitt. “The first reason is that this series was created in Montreal, and I’ve got a lot of love for this city and the people that have helped me live and work here. I wanted to share a bit of that with everybody. Another reason is that because the Caribbean back then was so multicultural and diverse, it’d be a nice fit if you were in a similar place in the present day, where people speak multiple languages all the time. It’s just an homage to the people I work with. There are little, funny call-backs to Ubisoft. You’ll find Easter Eggs where emails mention people taking cabs to Ubisoft and things like that… But I’d like to make it clear that Abstergo is a very different building.”
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask where the hell our Victorian London Assassin’s Creed game is. The pair remain silent, although we swear we can hear one of them suppressing a secretive laugh. If not London, then, where would the writers like to see an Assassin’s Creed game set? If it was entirely up to them…
“I always say that--because I love Irish literature--I’d love to create one in Ireland,” says McDevitt. “That’s only because it’s my preferred scenario. But they probably won’t listen to me until I write about eight more games, so it’s unlikely to happen. Haha--that’s a long way of saying ‘no comment’.”
May is more elusive: “I have a whole long list of places that I’d like to see an Assassin’s Creed set, but I have no idea whether or not the things that I’m most interested in will happen. All I know--as far as the future goes--is that there’s incredible game coming out in October called Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and that people should pre-order it from their favourite retailer. Beyond that I just don’t know. There’s no way of knowing what will go on beyond that…” he says, knowingly.
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is out this October on current-gen consoles, with next-gen versions following in November. We genuinely get the sense that the series is heading to bigger, brighter, more incredible places thanks to the power of the new machines... but for now the writers are keeping very, very quiet on what they might be.