Assassins Creed: An ancient world with a modern mood
Why I Love: KeokeN Interactive founder Koen Deetman shares how Ubisoft's open-world adventure captured his imagination
Why I Love is a series of guest editorials on GamesIndustry.biz intended to showcase the ways in which game developers appreciate each other's work. This entry was contributed by Koen Deetman, founder and CEO of Dutch indie studio KeokeN Interactive.
I still remember back in 2007, when I was waiting for the new IP from Ubisoft, Assassin's Creed. Early images and descriptions in Game Informer and Edge Magazine blew me away with what Ubisoft was trying to create with their new universe. The videos on Gametrailers.com got me hyped even more, so much so that I was literally counting down the days before release. I devoured every bit of information and read all of the previews from media. Going full circle - Assassin's Creed heavily inspired me to make Deliver Us The Moon: Fortuna, which launched in September.
I followed producer Jade Raymond and creative director Patrice Desilets every step of the way on their journey. Both demonstrated a huge passion for the game they were building - something that I really hadn't seen much in the medium before. They really sold the world of Assassin's Creed to me, something which is incredibly important nowadays as a developer to sell my own product.
"The morning of release day, the game was delivered to my mailbox. Before going to work, I couldn't resist but quickly popping it in my Xbox 360 to see what the main screen looked like"
I saw this as a shift, where producers and directors were showing their faces and the world could see that games were made by humans and not corporations. Years later, indie studios evolved this and showed how important it was to connect with your community, something Rami Ismail and Jan Willem Nijman did with their 'performative development' on Twitch for Nuclear Throne (and something that I am also try to do with the community around Deliver Us The Moon). Jade and Patrice made me absolutely love Ubisoft.
Back then I was working as a janitor for elementary schools to pay for my lineup of games each month. The morning of release day, the game was delivered to my mailbox. Before going to work, I couldn't resist but quickly popping it in my Xbox 360 to see what the main screen looked like. Just seeing you could control Altair in the loading screen already made my heart jump a beat. I couldn't believe I was finally playing the infamous Assassins Creed!
My dad has always supported me in the things I wanted to do in life, such as becoming the number one on ClanBase in esports with my clan in Soldier Of Fortune 2 during my teens, studying Computer Science and Game Development, as well as helping me start up my studio KeokeN Interactive, I always include him in my endeavours and therefore I asked him over to lay the first steps in Assassin's Creed together with me.
And those steps were good. The game started by introducing me to the "animus," with Desmond Miles is laying on a curved table. A doctor explained I could connect to my ancestors through Desmond's DNA. It was fascinating, how Ubisoft had layered its stories and game worlds. Rather than stick to only one, they took me on a mind ride into what might become possible in the future in terms of virtual reality and digital worlds. I remember thinking; 'Will there be a time we can replicate and observe our ancestors lives?' It was a good counter to the classic historical approach they took inside Altair's world, an ancient history mixed with extreme modern technology.
"The killing aspect wasn't implemented with massive slaughter in mind... it made you feel you were doing something that was morally wrong and that was new to me"
With this approach they could define and explain their entire UI being on-screen when you are playing Altair in comparison to Desmond's world of reality, where the game screen is mostly clean - something I found incredibly smart back then. Dying with Altair would mean your connection with the DNA was going 'bad' and the animus had no recollection of Altair being deceased at that point in time, or when you decided to kill a civilian, a message would tell you that 'Altair didn't kill civilians'. I found this interesting since the killing aspect wasn't implemented with massive slaughter in mind. Caring for game characters was something different; it made you feel you were doing something that was morally wrong and that was new to me. Somehow Assassins Creed created an atmosphere where you considered real life norms and values, or at least thought twice about your actions. It's a clear example showing games weren't silly shoot-'em-ups anymore, but they could take you on an experience that is closer to the real thing.
Altair was a mysterious character to me - the idea of playing the master assassin was great, although it was impossible for me to know how to act like one as a new player. Narratively, Altair had to be taught some manners and was ordered to hold his temper, one method that made it possible to teach players how to act like a master assassin. It was something I found very clever when it comes to tutorials. I was playing a super hero, but discipline required me to master the art of being a super hero.
It was a great structure, because everywhere Altair went, I felt powerful and on top of the world. Feeling like a mighty human, who was trained to ignore fear and was determined to make change unlike all the other inhabitants of Assassins Creed's world. Not only in physique, but also in terms of thoughts and beliefs against the ruling elite Templars. In my view, that was something very connectable to the real world.
They used examples of how the corrupted and influential wealthy were abusing their power for their own gain and crowd control. Altair was striving for equality and modern morals and values that were out of this world for a time like 1191. They continued that tone into the 'real world,' where Desmond was still fighting the same Templars but in a modern setting and with modern methods. All in an effort to control the world. It was a huge story to tell, and had me on the tip of my chair.
One of the best moments in Assassin's Creed was when I left the busy streets and climbed to almost impossible heights just to sit and watch. Watching the city, watching everything move, taking in the atmosphere of the city was breathtaking. They made great use of color correcting these cities to feel a certain mood. Damascus was filtered in yellow/orange and felt really hot, warm and was glowing in the sun. Acre was blueish and felt like a cold city straight from the middle ages as you remember from history books, whereas Jerusalem used a greenish hue, not warm, not cold, but greatly showcasing the two religions present in the city. I caught myself in awe and completely ignored continuing the journey. Just being in Assassin's Creed's world was enough for me to say it's definitely my favorite game.
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