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Making Assassinations Distinct

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Calvar The Blade's picture
Calvar The Blade
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So I watched a video of AC1's assassination of William. That mission defines a lot of what I find interesting about AC. The target is making a public appearance, vulnerable but surrounded by security, and you sneak right over top of them. Normally youve been mixing it up in the streets, running from the cops and overhearing stuff. The rooftops have been there, but they don't feel as though thry serve essential purpose: they're just somewhere you can be that is separate from the chaos below.

But now they feel connected to what happens below. They are your shield: suspicion is high, and no-one so clearly armed as you could possibly evade that suspicion for long on the streets. Of course, this feeling doesn't last long, you don'thave far to go and rooftop guards present an obvious threat. Navigating your environment is a matter of simple observation, pathways clearly defined. Said guards are similarly tuned to provide openings to slip past or silence them.

The sense of superior positioning is weakened. It starts to feel a little too convenient, like rooftops are not an unexpected angle, but something long-planned for. If only that guard's patrol were imbued with any sort of human boredom or creativity, you would be spotted for sure. And you start to wonder if Altair really knows what he's doing. If this really is a good idea in any shape or form. If this is why the real Assassins didn't plan to get out alive after their work was done.

What if the archers were on the ground? What if they didnt expect anyone to be crazy enough to climb and jump across unsafe support beams and cracking stone.What if that was rereinforced by the act of navigation on this plane being dangerous and dependent on mastery of the oldest trick in the video game book: platforming. Only when you fall, you dont fall into an endless pit. You fall into an overwhelming number of enemies, and instead of entering combat as you did countless times when scurrying around the city in search of the knowledge thst ledyou here, instead of that, you are beaten to the ground and hauled off, or killed, as may be appropriate depending on what enemies you face. Desynchronization.

This sounds a lot like a setpiece. Assassination missions should be setpieces. Setpieces shouldn't be chases after balloons or senseless destruction of landmarks. They should feel distinct and heavy on theming, not just like playgrounds for mechanics on a larger scale than usual. Of course there should still be stealth elements, but the consequence and reward of stealth should be magnified and exaggerated compared to the time you snuck into a gang's hideout to steal the key to their secret sewer entrance that allowed you to get into the parade grounds on Alexander's speech day, memory 3 of sequence 6.

Look, what I'm saying is that most of these games should feel like work. It should feel like you're slinking around a city shanking fools and finding secrets, but Assassinations too often feel like they're just another part of it. In Hitman, the assassination is work. Agent 47 is the guy they hire when there's no time to prepare and the level of security and lethality in the modern world demands an assassin who can improvise when handed a rubber duck, a dude literally born to do the impossible. In Assassin's Creed, you are for all intents and purposes a normal person. You live in a time where there are no guns or metal detectors or cameras and most everyone's got a blade down their boot anyways. Impossible is not the purview of any Assassin: planning is. Everything you've done leading up to this moment needs to come into play, and you need to feel like you have a good shot at this. It doesn't need to be easy, and it doesn't need to be linear, but there needs to be a well-defined rule of engagement: a strategy that turns the environment into a playground, and an escape plan that is foolproof enough.

I think these games too often present rote obstacles at climaxes, as though players cannot appreciate a simple moment of peace and security, or freedom of expression. You should still be able to kill your target multiple ways, and you should still need to be clever to figure some of them out, but I desire a more atmospheric and minimalist approach to executing the finale, even if that comes at the cost of the dynamism that can still find a home elsewhere in the game.

TL;DR: why not think of assassination missions more like a telltale game with a more complex method to input your choice? Where failure is based not on timing but on mastery of one simple aspect of the game. Maybe this is just reverse-engineering what the developers of every game try to do! Maybe it's stupid! But I had fun thinking about it this way.

the posts a bit guy

DarkAlphabetZoup's picture
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"Look, what I'm saying is that most of these games should feel like work. It should feel like you're slinking around a city shanking fools and finding secrets, but Assassinations too often feel like they're just another part of it."

This resonated with me really hard. I'd been -- unaware of it -- feeling this way ever since the jump from Assassin's Creed 1 to Assassin's Creed 2. There was something... SPECIAL about AC1 and about its Assassinations in particular that literally every subsequent Assassin's Creed game just could not manage to give me. It might have something to do with this. This might be the reason for my quote, "I hate that Assassin's Creed 1 only had one sequel, while Assassin's Creed 2 had seven."

This is a good post to read, if you've never read it:

https://thiscageisworms.com/2014/02/14/on-assassins-creed-part-2-the-game/

I feel very comfortable saying that there is a “standard scale,” a zoomed-out quality to most of the actions that players perform in Assassin’s Creed: you run around the map, you climb up towers, you collect flags, you ride horses. Each of the various cities contextualize these actions, tailoring them to their particular opulent or ruined architectures, but in the end, the running, the climbing, and the annoying of guards is fundamentally unchanged from location to location.

I describe these actions as “zoomed out” because our relationship to them is like looking at the ground from a plane; there are movements, differentiating features in the broad strokes of things, but minutiae is mostly lost. You hold down the free running button to get from point to point and that’s your relationship to most of the actions you take during these open world segments. You’re taking what Nietzsche might have called the God’s eye view; today we call it “playing the minimap.”

What establishes a mechanical rhythm in Assassin’s Creed is the zoom in, the focal moment, which is unique in that each action taken effects the entire scene. The structure of most of the missions that are accessed in the open world nodes work this way — you are given a target, you focus on that target and her or his movements, and then you perform a timed action on him or her. You follow a merchant, stand still as he looks around, creep closer as his back is turned, move closer, hit the pickpocket button. An assassination mission works the same — you find the target, trace his movements while carefully controlling your own, and intervene for a single surgical moment before dashing away across rooftops.

Mechanically, this is merely giving us what can only be called “assassin feel.” These very specific and targeted movements force the player into feeling like a scalpel, a single-use object that is very efficient at that single use.

Point and counterpoint, however, and so these very specific moments only have the qualitative feel that they do because they are not the targetless, running-around times. These moments of feeling highly effective with a strong purpose in life are contrasted against directionless running and climbing. Being zoomed in only has meaning because it does not afford us the access and choice of options that being zoomed out does.

On one hand, this is incredibly effective as a mechanical system for delivering a particular experience to a player. The designers and developers of Assassin’s Creed set up a very specific possibility space for Altair, and that space is explored efficiently and to a greatly “immersive” end in the sense that you really do experience the day-to-day of an assassin in this world. The systematic rocking back and forth between zoom levels becomes a rhythm of life.

Calvar The Blade's picture
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I agree that assassins creed 1's structure and prominence of assassinations was ideal, but I think what I'm really trying to express is the way all of these games layeran additional level of 'challenge' which stifles the atmosphere and isn't consistent with what the player has been led to expect. I'm imagining the ideal assassination mission as a nonstandard cinematic gameplay sequence that leads to a small sandbox area that is closer to regular gameplay except with the addition of a bunch of special-case interactions that lead to the different possible kills. Essentially, in the example of william, there would be no rooftop guards, but his keep would be an enclosed building with patrols and various infiltration points, and opportunities to strike.

Other games in the series actually have gotten somewhat closer to what I'm thinking of, namely the Pitcairn assassination in AC3. Advancing through a battlefield using cover, then sneaking up to the camp overlooking the battle. The battlefield isn't exactly the best or most intuitive setpiece, but it certainly was non-standard. The camp is an isolated spot, logically only defended by a few patrols. You feel smart for having snuck past an army. You feel like this actually is a logical time to strike. And you can air assassinate him from the top of his flagpole, if you figure out how to get there.

So to put it more clearly, I think these climactic moments can serve well as a break from the moment to moment gameplay loop and also contain a smaller and more concentrated version of it. This is something I feel helps them stand out in the 30 or so hours one of these games takes to play

the posts a bit guy