7 min read

Post-GDC: Defining The Assassin

One of the most fascinating lectures from last week's GDC was Ubisoft Montreal's look at the design philosophies behind Project Assassin, its intended to be revolutionary next-gen action title, and Gamasutra has a full write-up from the unmissable session.

GDC: Defining the Assassin

Gameplay on the Move

This intriguing Ubisoft Montreal-lead GDC session, discussing the company's next-gen title, started just a few minutes later than its scheduled time with the somewhat unexpected announcement from conference staff that no picture or video footage may be taken during the conference.

It was only somewhat unexpected since it is possible to merely talk about company projects and processes without showing a single image of internal tools and builds; many lectures choose to go that route. This was not one of them, and the announcement helped raise the expectations of the audience.

Ubisoft Montreal Creative Director Patrice Desilets

Project Assassin is Ubisoft Montreal's working name for their game set on redefining the action genre for next-generation consoles; with such ambition comes a healthy mix of strong, disruptive design philosophies and a stiff shot of new technology, as was presented. Representing Project Assassin were Creative Director Patrice Desilets, whose previous work was on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and Producer Jade Raymond.

The next-generation of consoles will afford developers more possibilities than ever before; with that in mind, Patrice's vision for next-generation games consists of organic design. Patrice looked at what was possible in reality and wondered, "Why do we create rules for our characters instead of using the ones we have in the real world?" From this, he states that the more game rules can mirror real-life rules, the better players are able to suspend their disbelief and be immersed in the game. He also states that with a foundation in real world rules, games can be made even more accessible to the non-gaming public because of their familiarity with those rules.

The only released art of Ubisoft's Project Assassin thus far.

Patrice showed the audience a reference video montage they used for the actions and scenarios that they would like to see in this game. Among the clips were scenes from Raiders of the Lost Art, Braveheart, the French film Banlieue 13 featuring noted traceur David Belle (, Japanese anime action scenes, and American football game video game clips. All the scenes featured different types of interactions, from people using the architecture and environment in sophisticated ways to motion through crowds to various methods of combat. "In order to be accessible and immersive in a rich and complex world, interactivity must be interactive," he said.

New Tools

Ubisoft Montreal Producer Jade Raymond

He then moved to the theory and practice component of the session's title, using existing videos to show the current state of video games before switching to the tools they developed to create a different type of mechanic.

Patrice began by talking about the game cliché of the double jump. It exists only in video game parlance and is not only inorganic, it is not understood by anyone except video game players. Instead, Patrice uses human possibilities for jumping. "Just like in real life a jump shouldn't be hard to do… you shouldn't have to think about it." The team designed a system of targetable jumping, using dynamic blending of start and end positions based on all human possibilities, and in this system, a jump cannot be modified once it is started, unlike the video game convention. Jade then presented the jumping tool they developed, which featured numerous beams which the game avatar could jump onto or hang from; designers could use this tool to see the full range of possibilities of the avatar and system.

Afterward, Patrice presented the climbing cliché; a different texture on a wall signaled to the player that it was climbable; instead of this, Patrice set a rule that any thing that juts out 10 centimeters can be used as a handhold or step. This gives the player horizontal and vertical possibilities and, like real life, make climbing about targeting the right place rather than being able to or not. Again, Jade presented the climb tool, which shows a 3D object and an avatar, and presents the possibilities of motion with that object. It featured all the different possible poses for climbing and animates between each one using blending and inverse kinematics.

In the larger realm of level design, again Patrice stated that they take a cue from real life, making it a totally free path rather than the linear rhythm sequence of previous games. This provides different relationship between level designers and art designers. Typically, level designers flag the path of interactivity within an environment; now, the tools can create these flags based on the 3D art assets. This means that level designers have to work much more closely with art because the visuals actually create the gameplay. Jade showed a video tech demo of what results from these design decisions; it featured a very fleshed-out environment, which the avatar had no problem traversing through running, climbing, and jumping on top of and around buildings. She noted that in this video, all the player is doing is moving with the directional pad and pressing a single button.

Beyond Fighting

The next cliché Patrice presented was in fighting among NPCs. Rather than the room to room "sausage link" design he presented in previous games, fights should follow reality, with swords being as lethal as they normally are and fights being as escapable as the world surrounding would permit. Another tech demo showed a character working within this system and surviving through an auto-block system Patrice developed for this idea.

But "…interaction with NPCs should be more diverse than killing," Patrice said. Just like in real life, people should be obstacles; pushing and unbalancing should also happen. He showed video clips of Madden and FIFA to demonstrate how sports games are already doing this. Jade then presented a series of videos showing how an avatar would automatically move his hands to push or twist his body to accommodate the people that were in his way while he moved. Sometimes he would unbalance or push someone down; eventually, the guard characters began to push him down. They would even pin him by the arms and keep him from moving after enough time.

Patrice then talked about the AI in the controller interface that's necessary for making this happen. Over 700 contextual interactions are in place and there is still more to come. Each button is mapped to a body part, and intensity dictates the type of action that happens; five buttons and the directional are responsible for all the controls in the game.

Project Assassin strives for real world rules and drew influence from many sources including parkour (also known as free running).

Future Vision

The final video showed a full gameplay sequence that featured all of these elements. The avatar walked through a crowded street and jumped from rooftop to rooftop before descending to street level to assassinate a character, then had to escape from a large group of guards intent on either arresting or killing him. The video ends with him about to ride the horse to escape, and the two note that there is a lot more that they haven't revealed in gameplay elements.

At the session's conclusion, Patrice noted the importance of intuitive and organic controls in games, especially for the non-gamers of today. Jade ran another movie montage of the target possibilities that game developers have yet to hit. It will be an interesting future as developers try many different paths to expand video games' reach with both gamers and non-gamers.



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