Each studio working on the series receives a weekly newsletter, showing off the work being done by everyone else. The content depends on what is happening that week. Sometimes it’s a slick video put together by marketing, sometimes it’s a screen-share from a developer, sometimes it’s concept art or text. Either way, it’s a great way to showcase and share ideas to make sure everyone is working towards the same goals.
However, a newsletter isn’t enough. At Ubisoft Montreal, there’s an entire team dedicated to coordinating the studios. “The biggest challenge with Assassin’s Creed development is to make sure the vision and the priorities are the same all over the globe,” explains Ambre Lizurey, Production Manager at Ubisoft Montreal. “When you work in Montreal and you have the creative direction in one place, it’s easy to walk over to a colleague and ask for some details on a specific aspect of the game. However, when you’re 20 hours away and have a huge time difference, like the team in Singapore, getting immediate answers is a real difficulty. That’s why we created a dedicated team in Montreal to make sure that every studio has someone to ask questions to, and get the answers they need.”
With Ubisoft Montreal taking the lead on all Assassin’s Creed games (Montreal was the only developer on the original game), they ultimately have the final word on whether something is included or not. Does it cause conflict when an associate studio wants to include something, but Montreal doesn’t see a place for it (and vice versa)? “This will always happen,” says Guesdon. “It happens in every project, even when people are sharing the same floor. It isn’t a specific issue that happens when you’re working with multiple studios. It requires the same sort of problem solving--a lot of talk, and getting people around the table to sort out differences.”
And has it ever happened? We asked Singapore and Annecy if they’d ever had great ideas cut by Montreal. “We’re always pretty much aligned with Montreal about where we want to go,” says Luhe, speaking for Singapore studio. “It’s never a case of them bringing down a big hammer and saying ‘No, your idea is never going to work’.”
In fact, it often works the other way around. Associate studios will often inspire others to try something new. After seeing the naval warfare sections created by Singapore, the Annecy studio started working out how to integrate it into multiplayer. “It’s the natural reaction--you see it and think ‘Hey, that’d be really cool in multiplayer’,” says Kieken. “However, when we looked deeper into it we came up against many obstacles like how to replicate the physics of the water. The water, for example, is a gameplay tool--it behaves differently, it has physics, you can have rogue waves and things like that. So, it’s something that would need to be replicated perfectly for all players in multiplayer. That throws up all kinds of issues technically and in terms of game design, so it’s one of the things that was studied carefully and dropped.”
Shame, but with the added power of PS4 and Xbox One, this could be a feature we see in the future. Although the next-gen consoles allow all Ubisoft’s studios the chance to be more creative, and to play with all that extra power, it doesn’t change the way they actually build Assassin’s Creed. “Because Assassin’s Creed is on PC, we always develop for more than the current generation consoles can handle,” says Guesdon. “So, this time we’re just more certain that we can push the game even further. In terms of process, it doesn’t change anything. It changes the output, because the content we create is big enough for next-gen--although we do make sure it fits, with some adjustments, on current-gen.”