Assassin’s Creed 2 — Core Pillars

From: http://gdc.gamespot.com/story/6253593/ubisoft-on-designing-assassin’s-creed-2

For Assassin’s Creed 2, Plourde said the gameplay pillars were fighting, navigation, and social stealth.

I probably would have simplified this to fighting and navigation. Social stealth isn’t fully realized on its own so I’d call it a subset of navigation.

Regardless of that slightly differing matter of opinion, interviews like this one with lead designer Patrick Plourde are wonderfully educational to read. Like a post-mortem, his comments are insightful and honest, not colored and tweaked by PR (or, at least, not overly so). In the interview, he talks about the problems with combat, how they tied their mechanics and puzzles/levels together more tightly to always maintain a fun experience, and why they steer away from making the parkour more challenging — amongst other things (and yes, I realize this is an older interview. But I wanted to play the game before reading it, and then once I did play this post got lost in my drafts). The only sad thing is how short it is.

Assassin's Creed 2

If you follow the site, you know that I loved the first Assassin’s Creed and had been looking forward to the sequel. Well, I finally got myself a copy of the sequel and have been going through it. I just completed the fourth DNA sequence (of fourteen). Here are some early thoughts:

Things I like about the game:

  • Like the original, the cities are alive; they have an air of authenticity to them. There are many (many!) people walking around. There are buildings everywhere. And it all looks so amazing and realistic. You can really get lost in the cities and that immerses you in the world.
  • There are new stealth attacks. While hanging on a ledge, you can reach up and kill someone who’s standing above you. You can leap off surfaces onto people below. You can reach out from hiding spots to kill someone, pulling them into the hiding place with you. There are also throwing knives — great for long-distance stealth kills. These are things I wished I could do in the first game.
  • You get a stronghold in the game which you can upgrade by using your money to restore buildings and open shops. As the stronghold grows, you gain more money. Although I expect this to break the economy, I always enjoy building up strongholds.
  • In the first Assassin’s Creed, after each mission you return to “real life” for a while before going back into the simulation, the animus. In the sequel. I have yet to leave the animus.  I like that there’s less interruption to the game play.
  • After playing Batman: Arkham Asylum I cannot say Assassin’s Creed 2 has an amazing fighting system, but I can say it’s fun enough for what it is. And simple. [X] to strike, and if you do it in the proper rhythm you can string a few attacks together. Hold block [RT] and tap [X] when an opponent is attacking you, and most of the time you counter their attack and kill them in the process. It’s fun and looks good, but I find myself too often waiting for them to swing so I can get the easy counter-kill.
  • Regarding parkour, not much has changed from the first game that I can tell — but the first game did a good job with implementing the fun movement system and I continue to enjoy it in the sequel.
  • Holy Hell is there a lot to collect! Feathers, paintings, treasure maps, upgrades to your stronghold, statuettes, treasure chests, armor pieces, codex entries, animus program hacks, and seals. Is that everything? I don’t even know. Unlike the original, the sequel doesn’t make you kill yourself trying to find things. It tells you a general area and then lets you work on finding it. Much improved.

Things I dislike about the game:

  • I don’t know what the frame rate clocks in at, but I get a headache within about two hours of playing due to eye strain — even though I have the game installed (not sure if that helps anything aside from load time) — and I would imagine that puts it in the 15-25 FPS range. It’s frustrating. Every time the camera spins about the world, the low frame rate is exacerbated. Yes, I know that I praised the size of the world and the numbers of people — and that impacts the frame rate — but you’d hope they would have struck a better balance. I’ll take less of everything for a higher, smoother frame rate. I’m sure the Windows version fares much better — but then it has the DRM issue to deal with. UPDATE: This article (see page two) suggests the 360 frame rate doesn’t drop below 24. I’m not sure if I believe that. But if it’s the case, then I’m not sure why the game is giving my so much eye strain.
  • While I generally am very impressed by the parkour system, and listed it as a plus, it occasionally frustrates me. For example, I’m trying to run straight, away from guards, but I leap onto a nearby light pole, scamper up it, find nothing to hold on to, and then drop back to the ground. The distance between me and the guards is now gone, or I may even have taken a shot from them. Also, there are the times when I’m trying to jump straight from one ledge to another but I launch myself into mid-air. This system could stand a little tweaking — that is, better weighting for locations to which you can move.
  • The game fails to encourage stealth. You’re playing the role of a sneaky assassin but you can walk right up to a guard and stab him, then stab his friend, then simultaneously stab two of his nearby friends. Maybe five or ten guards rush you, but taking them out is quite easy. Why bother sneaking when the frontal approach is so easy — sometimes easier and faster and just as rewarding as the stealthy route, and there are no repercussions against it? The worst that happens is the guards go on alert — but throw some money at a preacher or tear down a poster or two and the notoriety resets.
  • Relatedly, the developers have implemented ways to distract guards in order to access areas without detection. You can throw money on the ground and watch chaos erupt. You can kill someone, carry their body, and then dump it somewhere. You can hire thieves or courtesans and get them to distract groups. I love all these ideas, but they don’t work. There’s no incentive to use them. Not yet. And so I haven’t.
  • The story is complicated. And while there are a lot of people who really enjoy dense, complicated intrigues with lots of twists and turns like this, I find myself tuning it all out. There have been many characters introduced and then set aside or forgotten. Leonardo DaVinci is the only character I’ve met who is memorable, and that has nothing to do with the game. I’ve killed so many people and I’m never entirely sure who they are or why I’m killing them. I’ll have to read a synopsis to figure it all out, because if you asked me right now what I’m doing the best I could say is that I think I’m trying to avenge my father.
  • The first game had a lot of side missions that, while repetitive, were enjoyable. The sequel has side missions, but they are rare. I will occasionally unlock an entire district of a city and only find one race or courier mission. So far, that’s disappointing. I’d like to have more things to do outside the story missions.

Bottom line: I’m still early into the game, but I’m enjoying it. In ways it feels much better than the original. In other ways, it feels on par. I think that’s good. I just wish I could play more without experiencing eye strain.

E3 – 2009 – Day Three

Little bits of exciting news out of E3 here and there. As with the past couple of days, here are the items I find most compelling:

  • A Heavy Rain trailer! Damn, I want to play this game. This is the absolute first moment I’ve regretted not having a PS3. The video showcases the game’s opening mixed up with some game play. If the interviews are accurate, it’s going to be a “grounded” Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. Awesome.
  • Speaking of PS3, and my current loyalty to the Xbox 360, I remember, once upon a time, a lot of people citing the PS3 as the huge performer. Games, we were told, would eventually look far better on the PS3. Here’s a quote from Crysis’ CEO: “Between Consoles and PC I see a difference,” he told Develop. “The PC version will outscale and outperform the consoles. Between each console I believe the experience will be finally both next-generation, but similar experience.”
  • Ubisoft did a presentation for Assassin’s Creed II, showing off a good chunk of gameplay by highlighting some of the new features. This game looks really good. I love it when a sequel tweaks the original and then adds a swak of new content.
  • While BioWare did not do a public presentation for The Old Republic, Kotaku got a hands-on playthrough and wrote about the experience.
  • CD Projekt is still supporting the Witcher. Crazy! Their latest patch, referenced as the Director’s Cut of the game, removes all DRM and tosses in five fan-made modules. I don’t know anything about the modules, so I can’t say whether their inclusion is enough to get me to re-install the Witcher. I guess we’ll see!
  • I recently learned that the new Super Mario Brothers title for the Wii is co-op. That makes it somwhat more interesting to me. I played through LittleBIGPlanet with my girlfriend and her sister and we had a great time. “Competitive co-op” on the Wii could be a lot of fun.
  • Here’s an article by Tom Chick where he discusses the various motion-sensor controllers that are on stage at E3. I’ve read a few articles today that mention how the new controllers will add years to the lifespan of the current generation of consoles. Nothing wrong with that. And I love the innovation. But until the console ships with the peripheral, you can guess that the peripheral, and the games that use it, will never be mainstream.

E3 – 2009 – Day Two

Not a lot of excitement for me out of today’s E3.

I love the new Assassin’s Creed II trailer, but it’s just a cinematic. No game play. Similarly, the cinematic from Team Ico we’ve all seen has been given a title, as Last Guardian was officially announced. It’s also stated to be the third in the trilogy of titles also featuring Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

Final Fantasy? No thanks. I love RPGs but I never got into Final Fantasy. I spent about 15 hours trying with part 7, but… I think the days of me grinding through hordes and hordes of monsters ended after I finished the first three Phantasy Star games.

From the list of Nintendo-centric reveals, Wii Sports Resort and Super Mario Galaxy 2 are the games I’ll jump for. Super Mario Galaxy was tons of fun, and I think I played Wii Sports more than anything. I love that the new one has basketball, but it brings golf back, too? Why the repeat?

Not sure if I’ll get the new Rabbids Go Home game or not, but I’ve played the last few so I can assume it’s likely it gets a rental, at least. The trailer is cute. 🙂

A new Super Mario Brothers doesn’t interest me. Nor does Metroid. Zelda on the DS is iffy, but I still need to play the last one for the DS, Phantom Hourglass.

Golden Sun for the DS might have interested me had I had a better experience with the franchise. I got the first two titles and got about 1/3 of the way through the first one when a critical path bug blocked my progress. My only option was to start over from the beginning, and I was unwilling to to do that for a game that was only mildly entertaining me.

Is there anything else?

No. I don’t think so. A heart-rate monitor for the Fit? Uploading DS photos to Facebook? Meh. 🙂