Set to release later this year, Assassin’s Creed Revelations will be the last game in the Ezio trilogy, finally ending Ezio and Altaïr’s story arcs and explaining many of the franchise’s mysteries and riddles. Tasked with this momentous task, lead writer Darby McDevitt knows everything there is to know about Revelations, so we chatted to Darby about the game, its secrets and what’s next for the series. Oh, and Zombie Mario.
For more on Assassin’s Creed Revelations be sure to read our extensive preview of the game’s singleplayer.
Hi Darby, could you start by introducing yourself and telling us about your work on Assassin’s Creed?
Hi, I’m Darby McDevitt, I’m from Seattle – well just outside Seattle, a town called Spokane. I lived in Seattle for a long time and got my masters in Irish literature in Dublin, went back to the States, then moved to Montreal to write this game. But I also wrote Bloodlines and Discovery, so I’ve been on the brand at least two and a half years.
So Assassin’s Creed: Ireland is next then?
[Laughs] No there’s not going to be one, but yes, that is what I would do. I would actually do a very complicated war for independence and then Civil War right after that. That’d be a really nice, complicated moral grey area where you’d have to balance all these conflicting opinions on all sides. And you’d have these great British and Irish characters to choose from, lots of writers and politicians, all these people.
You’d have to have a couple more disclaimers at the beginning for that one.
[Laughs] I know, but if you handled it fairly… I know there’s that Ken Loach film, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, and the British in that are just like “RAAAWR”, and the Irish of course were fighting themselves in that one. Beautiful movie, well written but…
No Assassins. That’d be my ideal project, and Dublin and London might be fun cities. I don’t know where else you’d do, somewhere in Wales perhaps, Holyhead? [Laughs] Assassin’s Creed: Isle of Man…
So how many writers were involved in the game?
Corey May is our head writer of our whole project, so he and the brand team kind of come up with “we’re doing this new Assassin’s Creed to tell this part of the story, the Desmond in a coma bit.” And he hands it down to me, and I write – in this case – I wrote the singleplayer, all the side missions, all the database entries. And then we have an AI writer, Nicholas Grimwood, and he’s responsible for all the lovely crowd chatter, the heralds that are yelling at you, the guards etc. And we worked together to where we planned out, as you progress through the game over the course of the year in the game, you hear the chatter of the crowd talking about the war that’s raging between the Sultan Bayezid and his son Selim, as you get closer to the city. I always say it’s like Fortinbras in Hamlet, where, every so often, you hear, or even see, Fortinbras getting closer; at one point Hamlet is on a horse – this is the Kenneth Branagh version – a horse overlooking a hill, and hearing about Fortinbras getting even closer to Elsinore. So that was the kind of feeling we wanted with Revelations, if the player stops and pays attention to the herald, you’ll hear a story unfolding in the background. So two main writers, Corey also wrote a bit of stuff at the end to keep in line with the Desmond larger story, and Jeffery Yohalem, writer of Brotherhood, and another couple of guys, Richard Farrese, worked on some of the multiplayer stuff, cause we actually have a story in the multiplayer elements as well – you get to learn a lot more about Abstergo, the way that it recruits young people to rise in their ranks. So it’s quite a robust game, I don’t think people know how much content we have in the game, how much varied content there is. I also wrote the Desmond stuff that you’ll play, which is very much different, and then there’s a short film, Assassin’s Creed Embers that’s coming out that wraps up Ezio’s story, I wrote that as well and Ubi Workshop produced it, it looks really lovely.
Is it a difficulty having so many writers?
Nah, I guess because I’m the lead writer on the singleplayer experience I get to say “hey let’s do this, let’s do that”, but Nicholas as the AI writer, he’s pretty experienced, I think he did AC2 and Brotherhood, so he knows what he’s doing. I just sort of came up with the general theme of “hey, hit this theme at these points.” I didn’t have to give much direction. And yeah, that’s pretty self-contained, and then the multiplayer is its own beast.
Revelations is said to wrap up all the cliffhangers and plot holes in the series –
– For Ezio and Altaïr yeah, not Desmond. Desmond’s story will continue at some point in the future, in some form or fashion.
A Saturday morning cartoon! [Laughs]
So will we have to wait to have all the mysteries solved, do we have to play through the game and have a big scene at the end where all is revealed?
I can’t tell you that, but what I will say is, in the last sequence in the game, we’ve taken great care to make it very narrative rich, with lots of fantastic character development, lots of important reveals about certain bits of information that are really emotional moments. All these characters come to a place that feels like a natural ending.
Does it annoy you that only a minority of players generally finish a game?
Of course, that would annoy anyone right? If people walked out of a movie an hour into it, or put down a book halfway through it… Yeah, it’s a little annoying, but as long as they are having fun with the system it’s ok. But, we actually have a really high completion rate for most games, we keep track of that. Most games have under 50% completion rate, but we’re over that. But below 50%? It’s sad right?
In the section I played today, when Ezio arrives at Constantinople, he is all battered up, his clothes are in a mess, what has he been up to?
Our E3 trailer is actually the beginning of the game, we just released the extended trailer, and that is how it begins. As soon as you start playing Ezio, boom, it pops right into the middle of action. A lot of people are speculating: “Will it begin in Italy?” We thought about that, but decided against it as we wanted to focus our resources on creating all of these new assets and not reviving all of these old ones for new purposes. We wanted everything to feel really fresh right off the bat. Even when you first arrive in Masyaf, there’s snow on the ground, the wind’s blowing, there’s a blizzard – it’s a totally different Masyaf than you’ve experienced. So the game begins with that first sequence, almost like a good Indiana Jones movie, y’know how they always begin right in the middle of some action? Like the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, he’s searching for this cool thing, some stuff goes down right away, and then it starts getting into the real adventure. That’s how we structured it – big exciting opening, gameplay immediately, there’s already a problem. Wrap that up in the first sequence and then on to Constantinople and where you spend most of the rest of the game.
In the preview, I noticed in the start menu there was a section called Animus Island – what’s that?
Aha! Not gonna tell you. Well, that’s the equivalent of getting out of the Animus in the previous Assassin’s Creeds. The island is the original test chamber, when Rebecca and co. were creating the Animus 2.0 (we call it 2.03 because it’s the 3rd game in the Ezio series), they created this test island where they tested physics and tested environmental simulations and all their projections, so the island is just this beautiful little place they created. It’s kind of Desmond’s hub, if you will. I don’t want to say any more.
And subject 16, what’s going on there?
He plays a part… I won’t say too much more.
Are you wrapping up his storyline?
Uh… he plays a part [laughs]. He’s a mysterious character, fans are really interested in knowing more about him, so I think it’ll be interesting to see… we love that character.
Could he have a standalone game in the future maybe?
I have no idea.
And each game there seems to be more and more Desmond play time and character development, will Revelations continue this trend?
There is a large chunk of Desmond material, it’s vastly different to what you’ve seen before though, so it’s hard to explain, and we’re not really going to explain it because it’s a very different experience to the regular Assassin’s Creed, so we’d prefer it to be a surprise. If we reveal too much, people’s heads might explode with the amount of variety we’ve put into this. You already saw the Den Defense mechanic that we haven’t said a word about until now, but now you have Ezio commanding troops in a street brawl. That’s a game unto itself, and as you level up, those get harder and harder. And that’s optional content, if you want to play more of those when your den’s being attacked, you can go to them. Or you can let the Templars take your den and then you have to attack it again and assassinate somebody. So there’s a lot of content that’s just gonna start being revealed, and I think people will be like “Whoa, there’s a lot more stuff here than I thought there might be.”
You will be able to play as Altaïr, is that a one-off treat, or a more common occurrence?
Every time Ezio finds one of these Masyaf keys you will trigger a memory of Altaïr, and there’s five keys per… there’s five times five, or five times… well there’s…
… a lot?
Yeah, I’m not a mathematician [laughs].
So will they wrap up all the mysteries?
I don’t know about all of them, but you will definitely understand what happens to him at the end of his lifespan. I think some hardcore fans will be like “wait a second, what?!” But, at the same time, they’ll realize like, “oh ok, I see, there’s some little weird things here, connections”. But yeah, we’re wrapping their stories up, so there’ll be no more question about where next with these guys. We will see them come to a solid foundation close to their story.
And we’ll never see them again in future games?
I have no doubt that someone will probably, in future years, have some fun cameo or something. That might happen, but I can’t see anybody making a full game around them. It’s a bit like Doctor Who – we created this awesome bit of technology where one man contains millions of ancestors down the line, and we can pluck anyone out from history and use it. We stay with one character for a while, and then, like the regeneration, like Doctor Who, we start a new one and everyone’s excited to see who the new one is. At the same time, they miss the old one, right? I know I was devastated when Tom Baker died, and turned into Peter Davidson, not a big fan of Colin Baker though, and even less of a fan of the suit. So that’s what we’ve created with Assassin’s Creed – Ezio is a beloved character, I love the old character and fans are always curious to see what happens next. We try to balance it and who knows what the future holds.
Will we get any hints about the future in the game?
There are definitely some hints as to… Yeah, there are definitely some hints.
Have you already mapped out the plot of the next Assassin’s Creed?
Corey, the head writer, a while ago mapped out Desmond’s story pretty well. There has been a little course correction along the way, but he knows where Desmond’s story goes, and then he has ideas about which ancestors he wants to attach to that story and… we’ll leave it at that. Any time we come up with a new ancestor, we may know who that ancestor is, but until we get to them, that’s when we fill out that story completely.
And nice trips to the city locations, right?
Yeah, that’s what we should do, we should think “What is the place that we want to go to? Assassin’s Creed: Hawaii, I want to go to Hawaii.” [Laughs]
Have you written the scripts for any DLC?
We haven’t announced any DLC yet.
And the Vita game, are you working on that?
Nothing to do with me.
But there’s new characters, new locations.
Nothing to do with me, I promise! [Laughs]