Ubisoft's next assassin game takes players back in time to the American Revolution
By Michael Rougeau
“Until the end of the game, or the end of the revolution, they’re all British, you know what I mean?” he told IFC, laughing. “Everybody there is British. It’s a colony, you know what I mean? Like, that’s the whole point of it.”
The war, he meant—that’s the point of the war. But the war is not the point of “Assassin’s Creed 3.” This isn’t the only game to ever star a Native American. But Hutchinson and his teams at Ubisoft’s Montreal, Quebec City, Annecy, and Singapore studios are going to extra lengths to ensure that protagonist Ratohnhake:ton (or, by his English name, Connor Kenway) is an authentic representation of his people. They consulted with Native American advisors and hired a Native American voice actor to make sure everything from Connor’s speech to his gear is authentic.
The titular Assassin is always the heart of an “Assassin’s Creed” game. In the first game’s recreations of 12th century Damascus and Jerusalem, Altair introduced gamers to the ancient war between the Assassins and Templars. In “Assassin’s Creed 2″ and its spin-offs, the noble Ezio explored 15th-century Italy and Constantinople. All of this was seen through the “genetic memories” of Desmond Miles, a modern-day Assassin whose importance escalates with every entry in the series.
The 18th-century British colony of America seems at first like the odd era out, but Hutchinson assured IFC that it would fit right in. “We’re not ‘The Patriot.’ The story is not the fight for the American Revolution. The American Revolution happens in the background while you’re going about your business with killing Templars,” Hutchinson said. “Trust us. We have a plan.”
It may use the Revolution as a backdrop for the Templar-Assassin war, but even that is just a lens through which to come to know Connor, who’ll kill Templars on both sides of the larger conflict. “Who is this guy? Why does he join the Assassins? Why does he even care about the American Revolution, you know? He’s a Native American. How does all this happen?” Hutchinson asked. “It’s a 30-year story from before, during, in, and after the revolution. And it’s kind of the story of his life.”
By Emily Gera
Those three years of development saw an influx of new ideas come to a rolling boil. Ubisoft would contemplate different kinds of Connors and test the waters with dozens of them. The team would assign him new outfits and character models. They would do this, and then they would systematically throw out almost every single one.
"There were over a dozen full versions of the costume, more for his face," Hutchinson tells Polygon, describing the process behind designing a new assassin.
"And we auditioned over one hundred actors for the role, and had long voice recording sessions to integrate into the game for five or six of them. We knew we wanted a new type of hero for the franchise, and we wanted to treat his heritage earnestly and seriously, and of course it needed to make sense in terms of the brand overall. All of that meant it was incredibly difficult."
Ubisoft closed the book on its Ezio narrative with the release of Assassin's Creed: Revelations last year, opening the series up for new blood to be inducted into the franchise as the game's new co-lead. Connor's design was broken into three parts before the studio finalized what eventually we've come to know through trailer footage. They would focus on the visuals, then they would analyze the core motivation of the character and finally chisel out the tone of his personality, tying the art style to the human being. The result was an excess in ideas, most of them wouldn't work, but for the team it would leave a deeper impression of what potentially could.
"For costume we tried a lot, but they seemed cheesy or inappropriate, until we realized that being an assassin is essentially a 'job' and you need to put on the right outfit, which may not necessarily reflect the characters heritage," Hutchinson said. "If I work in a bank, I wear a suit no matter where I'm from. That said we updated it with gear and little touches that Connor used to customize his suit.
"In terms of voice, we knew from day one the actor needed to be Native American but that it couldn't be a stereotypical voice. He needed to be a human being with foibles and problems, and we were very lucky to find Noah Watts, who has done a lot of TV work on shows like Sons of Anarchy and others, and is both a terrific actor and a great guy. He has a softer tone than previous assassins but he can be hard edged when we need it."
For more on the subject, see Video Game Features Mohawk Assassin.