PAX East 2012 Preview: Assassin’s Creed III

Threequel gets tree climbing, greater stealth.

Ubisoft debuted the first-ever gameplay footage of Assassin’s Creed III at PAX East this year. And while it was open to the attending public, it was not open to the public waiting in anticipation at home (though, a few images did manage to escape).

The gameplay shown saw our new assassin Connor take part in a key battle during the American Revolution: the Battle of Bunker Hill. The goal: to take out British major John Pitcairn, an enemy and Templar.

Alex Hutchinson, creative director on Assassin’s Creed III, provided commentary throughout the footage.

The Battle of Bunker Hill

“First, I’d like to introduce you to our brand new hero Ratohnhaké:ton, or as he will be better known in the game, Connor. He is half British, half Native American, which we’re very excited about,” Hutchinson said. “It gives us the opportunity to create a new kind of hero with a new personality, and a whole different set of tools at his disposal that we think you’ll find to be exciting. And contrary to current internet urban legends, there is in fact plenty of hidden blade action, as well.

“This scene takes place in Bunker Hill in 1775 during a key battle between British and American troops, and Connor’s target is Pitcairn, the major in the British army.”

The scene opened with Connor moving about the American side of a crowded battlefield, preparing to maneuver his way around the chaos onto a more appropriate path to his Templar target.

Movement and Enemies

“We spent a lot of time on how Connor moves in the environment. We know it’s a key pillar for the [Assassin’s Creed] universe. We rebuilt all of these enemies from the ground up, whether it’s fights or navigation. And we’ve tailor-made these animations to Connor’s character. And in instances like this, we tried to offer a lot of different options to the player, as well. In this instance, you can go left if you want to follow the stealth path, or right for the action path.”

The stealth path was taken.

“It’s worth emphasizing that as always in an Assassin’s Creed game your targets are Templars, and they fall on both sides of whatever conflict you’re a part of. In this instance, that particular Templar is a member of the British forces, and his name is Pitcairn.

“It’s interesting here. It’s the first time in the Assassin’s games that we’ve dealt with armies as opposed to guards. We’ve worked a lot on the realization, making sure people use firing lines, making sure that they obey basic military strategy and tactics.

“We’re also focusing on subtle things such as reacting animations. Here you see Connor flinch at an explosion nearby, that’s sort of riddling some poor Patriot soldiers around him.”

Flexibility and Crowds

“We’ve also clarified the controls, which allows a little more flexibility. In this instance, you can choose whether you want to pass under objects or to leap over them or climb.”

Connor was shown running and sliding under crooked tree bark growing from the ground.

“A quick look at the crowd, we know it’s a signature element of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, so we wanted to make sure we were really giving the player the emotion of being at these large, epic battles, while giving them huge vistas within the colonial cities.

“Where we can only have about 200 characters on-screen in previous games, now we can get to two, two-and-a-half thousand characters on-screen. Which allows us to get the big, sort of emotional scenes such as you see here.”

The British and American armies were at battle, hundreds of characters on each side.

Trees and Offense

Connor proceeded around the battlefield, dodging gunfire by taking cover, and into the surrounding forest where he took to the trees.

“We worked a lot on tree navigation in the game, at first we were a little worried that it would make the player feel like Tarzan, we wanted to make sure it was grounded and realistic. The team always felt it was funny that the one thing you couldn’t climb in the game was the one thing you could climb in real life, which is trees. We’ve worked on a lot of moves like this one – the Trunk Around – which allows you to move [or swing, rather] around a tree that is very naturally shaped.

“Just another new move in the game, the idea of being able to move directly forward on objects above you.

“Connor has several new tools at his disposal. We really wanted to key into this kind of predator fantasy: the idea of you hunting enemies in the forest or in cities. So we added several new tools such as the Rope Dart, which allows you in most instances to sort of hang your enemies from trees, but in this instance, it’s going to lead directly to a fight.

“When we started working on this concept of line infantry and the notion that if players stood at a distance, the enemies would line up and fire their muskets – we wanted to give you some different strategies for dealing with it. Here he grabs a human shield to put in the way of the firing line before he charges in.”

The footage showed Connor who, stalking a group of British soldiers from up high in a tree, Rope Dart one of the enemies, drop down, pulling the now tied-up enemy, leaving him dangling from the tree, dead. Connor then proceeded to take out the remainder of his enemies, using one as a human shield.

“I also just like these dangling line at the top of the screen,” added Hutchinson, referencing the Rope Dart-ed soldier.

Combat and Natural Feel

“The core combat system is being rebuilt from the ground up. It’s based around the concept that even though guns existed, they were terrible. Connor’s goal is to close the distance, and get in tight with his enemies. He’s a dual-wielding specialist – all of his combinations of different weapons are dual-handed. And it allows us to really focus on a sort of dynamic, modern combat system.

“We worked a lot on making sure that the trees maintained natural formations. It’s a very complex engineering task, but the team has done an amazing job dealing with different shapes so that you’re not basically running on a bunch of trees that look like horizontal polls. You actually feel like you’re climbing a real, living tree.

“We based a lot of the new movements in terms of cliff climbing on research done by the team – the notion of leaning against your weight, putting both hands inside the cracks in the wall face to get traction. We’ve also worked a lot on organic terrain and natural shapes – the notion that as you climb, you don’t need to follow rigid patterns or straight lines. We really want it to feel like a real cliff and not some manufactured video game cliff.”

Connor made his way up a cliff, maintaining proper hand placement. The cliff was not engineered for a specific climbing route. Players are free to take any path up the structure.

Stealth and Constant Movement

“You can move around certain areas undetected. You can imagine bushes running along the base of a building, or here out in the forest, that allow you to line up your targets. As long as you move slowly, your assassin automatically goes down into a stealth pose. We think this leads to much more fine opportunities for players trying to take a stealthy path.”

Connor lurked through the the bushes, having just exited the forest and coming out on the side of the British army. Still hidden, he was then directly lined up with his Templar target.

“Running assassination: the goal with Connor was to make an assassin who is always in motion, so a lot of the new assassinations, a lot of the new free running or climbing was about maintaining motion. Here you’ll see the notion that as Connor charges at his enemies, and basically hits the assassinate button, he continues to move forward, he continues that sense of progression, all the way up until the kill.”

Connor ran up to Pitcairn and his surrounding group of allies. Very swiftly, Connor assassinated a few standard soldiers while still maintaining motion. When he was good to make his move, he jumped on and assassinated Pitcairn. There, the demo ended.

Assassin’s Creed III is due for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on October 30. A Wii U version is also in development.

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