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[AC Design] On Game Worlds and Focus/Purpose

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DarkAlphabetZoup's picture
Toronto, Canada
Joined: 12/30/2009

Not all game worlds are created equal. In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, for example, there is nothing inside the game world that doesn’t have a purpose. There are no friendly NPCs except for Prisoners, and their purpose is to be an Objective or be Extracted. This means that at no point are you interacting with anything that is there purely for window-dressing. Everything you see, do, or interact with in Metal Gear Solid V goes toward a greater goal.

Contrast this kind of game world with something like the recent renditions of the Assassin’s Creed games, and you’ll realize that there are a great number of things included in them that don’t need to be there. Blending with civilians has been dramatically reduced in usefulness from how effective it used to be in the early Assassin’s Creed games. This is due both to the difficulty of doing so, and to the lack of civilians in Target Zones in Unity and Syndicate: most Assassinations are indoors. This is true of both Unity and Syndicate.

When it comes to Syndicate, another thing to note is, there are not usually enough Civilians to blend with. but there are just enough to tax the hardware’s resources.

This is especially offensive because recent Assassin’s Creeds do not make strong attempts to honor the Social Stealth Model or give it much weight. Overall, the series has moved onto more Traditional Stealth or Line of Sight Stealth. Some might say this shift was unsuccessful, and I would agree with those people. One of the major reasons for this is a lack of proper AI Manipulation, and incentive to stay unseen that does not involve arbitrary “Full Sync” objectives.

This got me thinking about a game in which such a world would make the most sense both mechanically and aesthetically. That is, a world with everything inside it having a purpose or reason to be there, instead of being purely window-dressing or mood-setting. A place where there are absolutely no Civilians wandering the streets, where everything the Assassin interacts with has meaning and value.

Given these parameters and conditions, it's easy to think of one that would be effective:

A totalitarian regime with a curfew for Citizens, with the Assassin functioning at night-time or past curfew. There would be little to no Civilians in the game world, and it would be filled with meaningful AI interactions that all directly and obviously affect the game-state. If there are Civilians, they would be in trouble as well, and need rescuing by the Assassin, given that Assassins are usually thematically represented as fighting “for the People.” If the player is roleplaying as a more cruel or less Creed-respecting Assassin, or if they see an opportunity that is too good to miss, they can also choose to use these Citizens-in-Distress as bait, or distractions, allowing guards to harass or kill them while they sneak into whatever area those guards are not looking at.

I must clarify, it does not need to be every subsequent one, heavens no! I wouldn't love that much either.
Civilians are certainly part of Assassin's Creed's targeted atmosphere, but know that whether they're appropriate depends on the aesthetic context that the particular game has. In the context of a curfewed, totalitarian state, emptier and more hostile streets at night-time would play up the atmosphere further.

A single game would be perfectly suited to this kind of thing, and it wouldn't kill us. Right now they are straddling two impossible to reconcile desires, and if they choose one - for even a single game - it would function far better than trying to unsuccessfully hold onto both. For freshness' sake, and variety's sake, this one is more interesting than falling back on large crowds. They can return to crowds in all the games that come after it. There is much that can be done with Assassin's Creed's game model, and a fear of embracing new ideas is part of the series' slow decay.

This definitely isn't something I would advocate for permanence, but it would be healthy and of great benefit for Ubisoft to do this for a single game, the same way sailing was done for Black Flag. This is exactly the kind of "core aesthetic" they seem to like to build their games around.

There are many amazing opportunities with this kind of change, and this kind of game world. I would certainly like to play an Assassin’s Creed game with such a world, if only because it would force its developers to be truly creative and present the player with more fluid, responsive, and directly meaningful gameplay possibilities.

EDIT 1: Strengthening Aesthetics/Atmosphere through Small Mechanical Additions

Spoiler: Highlight to view
Note also that adding atmospheric touches too liberally can also be damaging. Add too many and the mind stops noticing them. (Or the hardware has trouble rendering them.) Add too few, and the ones that are there stick out. A balance is needed, but beyond that, keep in mind that attaching a mechanical significance to aesthetic touches makes them feel more real rather than an easily-broken illusion. A good example of that is, if we could interact with Civilians more or join them in whatever activities they're doing, they would feel more like a real part of the world, and with this small amount of mechanics, their aesthetics become stronger too.