Why Assassin’s Creed IV might be the biggest game in the world

‘This game was made by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs’. This message, which runs at the start of every Assassin's Creed game, started out as a convenient disclaimer for the sensitive subject matter of the original game. After all the conflict between the Christian and Muslim faiths is often headline news. However, since then it has grown to explain so much more about Assassin’s Creed. Each entry in the series now has six or seven separate studios working on the same game from all corners of the globe. Now, that opening screen is more boast than disclaimer--and quite rightly so. The latest iteration--AC4: Black Flag--is one of the most ambitious global projects in games.

That’s why we decided to dig deeper into how the epic Assassin’s Creed games actually get made year after year. Sure, some games use a couple of studios to spread the work-load, but when you’re putting together a jigsaw that has its pieces scattered across Canada, France, eastern Europe, and even Singapore, it becomes a challenge just to keep track of everything, let alone meet deadlines and release a coherent game. To find out how it’s done, we chatted to several people from the Montreal, Annecy and Singapore studios.

Seven. That’s the number of studios working on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Montreal is the base, the creative nerve centre, while studios like Ubisoft Singapore work on the naval combat sections and Ubisoft Annecy craft the multiplayer. What’s the advantage to working like this? Manpower. Jean Guesdon, Creative Director on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag at Ubisoft Montreal, explains: “When you give a mandate to a different studio, you know they’re really going to focus on that specific thing. When you’re working as just a single team or even two studios, there’s a tendency to focus on fewer things to make sure your game gets finished. However, when we spread the content out like we do, to our different studios, features that might be considered optional or secondary become a priority to that studio. So that’s great for the overall game.”

By spreading responsibility for the varied features in the game, Ubisoft can afford to make Assassin’s Creed so diverse. We so often hear development teams say ‘We’d love to do co-op, but we have to focus on getting our story right’ or ‘Yes, spectator mode would be awesome, but we didn’t have time to make it’. By allowing teams like Ubisoft Singapore to create the naval battles in Assassin's Creed 3, Montreal was free to focus on the rest of the game--safe in the knowledge that the naval battles would be up to standard, because it was the sole responsibility for an entire studio.

Not only that, if studios really nail the aspect of the game that they’re working on, it can have a huge impact on the future of the series. Take naval combat for example--Black Flag is built around the idea of sailing and sea warfare, something an associate studio created for AC3.

“It’s a great accolade for us,” explains Karl Luhe, Associate Producer at Ubisoft Singapore. “With AC3 we really went for it and tried to create something new. Throughout our collaboration with Montreal we’ve really been building our team and our skills, and with the naval warfare it was pretty clear early on that we’d made something special. So, when it was decided between the studios that Black Flag would have a larger naval component, that was something we were very proud of.”

It comes as no surprise, given the reaction that other Assassin’s Creed studios had when they first saw the naval warfare in AC3. “When Ubisoft first showed naval warfare at E3 2012, everyone in the crowd was really surprised by it and blown away,” says Damien Kieken, Game Director at Ubisoft Annecy. “We had the exact same reaction a couple of months before E3 when they showed it to us as a gameplay sequence, via the newsletter. Everyone was like ‘That’s amazing’.”

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  • kezins - June 24, 2013 4:49 p.m.

    I'm skipping AC4. I felt like the first two games were awesome and the rest have just been cash ins. If they keep it up with the annual releases, they are going to burn everyone else out on it eventually too.
  • Dave2123 - July 25, 2013 4:25 p.m.

    You should really play AC3; it is better than 2 and especially better than 1. I haven't played Brotherhood or Revelations so can't comment on them, but AC3 is by far the best game I've ever played.
  • larkan - June 24, 2013 4:08 p.m.

    The last good AC game was 2 for me. Revelations and Brotherhood were simply re-hashes of 2 with some minor content added. 3 was unbelievably boring. When I have to spend 3-4 hours playing tutorials before I can get into the meat of a game, I'll move on to something else. I'm not even going to mess with 4, I don't see the point. It's the same games over and over again with more npcs and micro management of things that really don't matter in the end. They should go back to keeping things simpler like they were in the first 2. Not every game is designed to be bigger and badder, it can actually make them worse.
  • Dave2123 - July 25, 2013 4:35 p.m.

    You do realise that you have described every sequel ever created. So, you obviously hate Fallout 3 and Skyrim and almost every game ever made. Also, 1 was terribly boring and repetitive and 2 wasn't much better. 3 was better in every aspect. It introduced loads of new gameplay and the story was fantastic. The free running, the fighting, all the game mechanics were better in3. I really don't get you narrow-minded, ignorant people who are so stuck in "the good old days" and are afraid of change and complain when something is slightly different to your favourite game in a franchise. I bet if you'd played AC3 before 2 you would think 2 is crap. There are no aspects of 2 that are better. The story maybe considered better, but that's it. I, also, assume you prefer PS4 to The One, because you're happy that $ony, just being obsessed with sales, are trying to hinder any advancements in gaming by keeping it the same as it's been for 20 years. Xbox are introducing all the technologies that have been created since this gen and $ony have some of those too, but they won't use them, because they only care about money. That's why they removed the eye because they knew MS had got the better of them so then they could say their console was cheaper. Everything the PS4 has The One also has and it's better, but it also has extras.
  • grannysmith - June 22, 2013 1:54 a.m.

    Oh I do hope this turns out well, they're working so hard. It must be so tiring to go between Canada and Singapore all the time.
  • Cooldudeachyut - June 21, 2013 9:18 p.m.

    Assassin Creed is really a game of its own kind. There is no other game like it, as far as I know.
  • talleyXIV - June 21, 2013 5:19 p.m.

    That might be true... until GTA5 comes out.
  • shawksta - June 21, 2013 10:53 a.m.

    Ah the squid in AC2. Not bad of an article, it just might be the biggest but it might not be the best if it doesn't hold up.
  • GoldenEagle1476 - June 21, 2013 10 a.m.

    I think the credits for ACIII were at least twenty-five minutes long.
  • FAT47ITY - June 21, 2013 10:14 a.m.

    "Congrats, Ubisoft collective, on making such an outstanding game. Now can we please move this along?"
  • StrayGator - June 21, 2013 9:28 a.m.

    tried to make an inb4 comment in the style of cameltoe. was marked as spam.
  • Sliet - June 22, 2013 1:57 a.m.

    --i guess it was --worth the shot
  • winner2 - June 21, 2013 8:41 a.m.

    This was an interesting read, I enjoyed it. Still really looking forward to AC4.