It's not a stretch to say that the Assassin's Creed Showcase at Ubisoft Forward delivered the single biggest day for Assassin's Creed news since the original game was announced more than 15 years ago. Fans got their first look at the trailer for Assassin's Creed Mirage, set in ninth-century Baghdad where players will take on the role of Basim Ibn Is'haq as he grows from cunning street thief to master assassin. But Mirage was just the tip of the iceberg.
While Mirage was the headliner, Vice President Executive Producer of the Assassin's Creed brand, Marc-Alexis Côté, also announced the development of two additional flagship Assassin's Creed games: Assassin's Creed Codename RED and Assassin's Creed Codename HEXE; the former taking place in the long-awaited setting of feudal Japan. Both will be part of the Assassin's Creed Codename INFINITY hub - a centralized location for players to access future Assassin's Creed games. Côté also revealed a new AAA mobile game, Assassin's Creed Codename JADE, as well as more information about the upcoming live-action collaboration with Netflix.
Having worked on Assassin's Creed since Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Côté is uniquely suited for his new role overseeing the franchise, most notably serving as Creative Director on Assassin's Creed Syndicate and Senior Producer on Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Now, he's responsible for the future of the brand as a whole, and it's clear there's a strong vision for how different types of Assassin's Creed games can coexist and how the franchise can expand beyond standalone game releases.
Changing What Assassin's Creed Can Be
Assassin's Creed is entering its third period. Period 1 was defined by the action-adventure gameplay which originated in Assassin's Creed and carried on through to Assassin's Creed Syndicate. Period 2 refers to the RPGs - Origins, Odyssey, and Valhalla. "What's interesting about Mirage is that it's in between that RPG style and the gameplay that made Assassin's Creed famous in the beginning," says Côté. "Moving on to Period 3, you will see more diversity in the types of gameplay we feature. In period three, we want to support our games for longer periods of time". That means that there's not going to be an RPG every year, Côté explains. "We want to support our RPG products, like the one that we've just announced, Assassin's Creed Codename RED, for a longer period of time."
RED may be the series' next evolution in Assassin's Creed's RPG period, but that doesn't mean that Assassin's Creed can't be something else. "We're not disclosing many details on Assassin's Creed Codename HEXE, but one of the things that I want to be clear for our fans and for the people working on it is that we are taking a different approach to innovate in terms of gameplay, so that we have different creative tracks within the franchise to keep surprising people," says Côté.
These 'creative tracks' within Assassin's Creed come as the franchise is being stewarded by two separate studios, Ubisoft Quebec and Ubisoft Montreal. The team behind RED, Ubisoft Quebec, will spearhead the RPG track and make sure it evolves and improves over time, while the team behind HEXE, Ubisoft Montreal, will focus on a track that feels fresh and different. This way, Assassin’s Creed can focus on one type of game at a time, meaning that if Ubisoft Quebec wants to develop another Assassin’s Creed RPG in the future, they’ll be able to implement all the lessons and feedback they gained from RED.
“I think there are very valuable benefits to building games that are very different from one another in our two studios, because it helps us collaborate, as we're not both building RPGs on top of one another,” says Côté. “So each studio has a vision for the game it wants to implement and collaborates on all the core technology that is necessary to make those two games successful.”
RED and HEXE represent two very different paths forward for Assassin's Creed, and both have found the right creative lead for the job. Leading the team on RED is Jonathan Dumont - the former creative director on Assassin's Creed Odyssey, the game which most heavily leaned into the RPG genre. Over at Ubisoft Montreal, Clint Hocking - known for his work as creative director on Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Far Cry 2, and Watch Dogs: Legion - leads the team working on HEXE. A newcomer to the Assassin's Creed franchise, Hocking's fresh perspective is exactly what HEXE needs, says Côté.
"Clint has had a storied career in the industry and at Ubisoft, inventing and reinventing many franchises," says Côté. "I think he brings a fresh eye and a lot of experience, expertise, and poise to the development of Assassin's Creed. What I see is someone bringing fresh ideas and a fresh approach that will help us again invent a new way to tell stories in Assassin's Creed. I'm very excited for what Clint is doing."
The Road to Feudal Japan
Assassin's Creed has taken players all over the world, from Ancient Greece and Egypt to Industrial-Age London and Revolutionary Paris. But for as long as we've been using the Animus to travel to distant locations and time periods, fans have been asking to visit feudal Japan - and at last, RED promises to take them there. But why now, after 15 years?
"I feel we now have the expertise and the knowledge to tackle a subject that is more difficult to address," Côté admitted. "Yes, we've wanted to do Japan before, but I think the teams have reached a level of maturity in the way they research history that allows them to approach this culture that's very different from our own in a way that will feel true to both the culture and to the way we approach settings in Assassin's Creed. We really feel that this is a setting and a culture that we need to nail. We need to have an absolutely exceptional product. Given the high expectations that people have, and that I've always had, I feel we have the team, we have the knowledge, we have the research structure to be able to support an exceptional-quality product."
While Mirage is a return to the franchise's roots, RED will return to the RPG genre that has defined its second period. But how will it evolve, seeing as it's camped firmly in Assassin's Creed's third period?
"I don't want to spoil too much of what our creative teams are working on," says Côté. "However, from a technological point of view, these are games that will benefit from a tremendous increase in fidelity with all the improvements that we're working on with this new iteration of the Anvil pipeline, so you can just imagine it being a very next-generation approach to RPGs, at least from a graphical-fidelity point of view. But it will take all the learnings that we've had from Odyssey and Valhalla to epitomize the best of what we can do at Ubisoft in terms of RPGs."
Adjusting the Timeline
Surprising people with new experiences might always be the goal for Assassin's Creed, but that's no reason to keep things secret anymore, says Côté. "The industry is changing around us," says Côté. "I don't think we can or should announce projects like we've done in the past on a very short cycle, where we announce and in six months it's on the shelves. We want to engage in a different conversation with our fans so that we can listen to their feedback earlier, take it into account, and keep improving our games and what we want to create with respect to the feedback that they're giving us."
Announcing new games early is a great way to gather player feedback but lengthening the development cycle for future Assassin's Creed games allows development teams to listen to fans, improve their tech, and release more polished games in the future. When Mirage launches in 2023 - three years after Assassin's Creed Valhalla - it will have been the longest period of time between mainline Assassin's Creed games. According to Côté, that's an intentional decision, and something players can come to expect. Assassin's Creed Mirage will be the last cross-generation game. Starting with Assassin's Creed Codename RED, games will be built specifically for current-gen consoles; the extra time in between allows the development teams to improve their Anvil engine to deliver a more polished experience. Just because RED and HEXE were announced at the same time, doesn't mean you should necessarily expect them to launch in sequential years.
"We're also shifting our development model to make it more sustainable for our teams, as previously we used to average about three years for each development cycle on Assassin's Creed," says Côté. "So we're moving to longer dev cycles to make them more sustainable from a human and technological point of view, so that we can truly build on the shoulders of one another and then support our games for a longer period of time."
INFINITY and Beyond
Announced last year, INFINITY is a centralized hub for Assassin's Creed games, and while the team is still investigating how it will incorporate Assassin's Creed's past, it's clear that the future will live on in this new platform. RED and HEXE will be the first mainline games incorporated into INFINITY, but they won't be the only things to look forward to. As Côté teased during the showcase, Assassin's Creed multiplayer is coming back. Codenamed INVICTUS, the new take on multiplayer will be incorporated as a standalone experience within INFINITY.
"We have the chance with INFINITY to make everything available for our players at the top level," says Côté. "A place where they can go from one experience to another to think about our games differently and give them a singular focus. RED and HEXE are single-player games. They don't have any multiplayer components. Our focus is on delivering exceptional open worlds with very captivating stories. Now, this opens up the opportunity for us to think differently about multiplayer and making it available at the top level in the hub, and in potentially more ways than one. This is only the beginning of the return of multiplayer."
Standalone multiplayer is a new concept for Assassin's Creed and Côté thinks it's the right path forward as fans sometimes worry that the inclusion of multiplayer in a traditionally single-player game will divert valuable time and resources. Now, Côté can ensure that games like RED and HEXE can worry solely about building excellent single-player experiences, while the team working on INVICTUS can fully invest themselves into creating new multiplayer experiences.
"For our games in Period 3, we're prioritizing focus, so you can expect each one of these initiatives to know exactly what it wants to achieve and to be a top performer in the market it wants to attack," says Côté. "People have asked for the return of multiplayer, but they've also asked for us not to compromise the quality of our single-player experiences. By making sure that we have different teams that are in charge of these experiences, and unifying them at the INFINITY Hub level, we can fulfill those two desires."
INFINITY will be the home of Assassin's Creed's future, but it will be far more than just a game launcher. In the lore of Assassin's Creed, memories are experienced through a device called the Animus that allows users to explore the genetic memories of an individual's DNA. INFINITY aims to bring this Animus experience to our real-world PCs and consoles.
Assassin's Creed puts out a lot of content, be it robust DLCs like Assassin's Creed Odyssey's Fate of Atlantis, free cross-game content like Assassin's Creed Crossover Stories, or massive expansion content like Dawn of Ragnarök, and players might not always be able to keep up. INFINITY allows all that content to live in one centralized location and be discoverable for all players.
"One of the other things that's changing with the approach to period three with the INFINITY Hub is that this is where our meta story, what we used to call 'the present day,' will live for all our games," says Côté. "So in period three, we're gonna be better caretakers of the meta story on the franchise through INFINITY, as this story will live asynchronously, but concurrently, with all of the games that will be on the INFINITY Hub."
Expanding Beyond Games
When it comes to making games, Côté's resume speaks for itself, but when it comes to making TV shows, he's happy to leave that in the hands of the experts. During the Showcase, Côté revealed that the previously announced Assassin's Creed Netflix show has found just such an expert in its new showrunner, Jeb Stuart ("Vikings: Valhalla," "Die Hard"), and that the team at Ubisoft Film & Television are teaming up with Netflix to produce the live-action series. While Côté may not have as much of a hand in the development of the TV series, he's keen on making sure that the show reflects the same values as the period three games.
"One of our objectives with our period three games is to have people feel the vertigo of history and realize how the past echoes into the present. I strongly believe that we need to approach the past with the courage necessary to address any misrepresentations that we may have learned in school, because history is a living science, and I think the more we look at it from diverse perspective, the more eye-opening and entertaining it actually becomes. These are the kinds of discussions that we've had with Netflix to make sure they understand where we want to go with games like RED and HEXE.We want these games to be eye-opening and entertaining at the same time, and I would say that was the essence of our discussions with Netflix.
It can be difficult to adapt a 15-year-old franchise. There's a fine line to walk between being true to the source material and making it approachable for newcomers to the brand. Fortunately, it's a challenge Netflix has risen to before, with multiple videogame adaptations now under its belt, but Côté is aware that for the series to be a success, it needs to be able to stand on its own two feet.
"We're not talking to them about the number of haystacks and Leaps of Faith that need to be in the series," says Côté. "We don't want things to feel forced. We want the series to stand on its own, but still reflect the values of the franchise. I think this is the beginning of a great journey with Netflix, because I think they can help us grow Assassin's Creed into an even bigger franchise. I think we have this opportunity because history and traveling back to the past is such a universal fantasy that I'm sure it can have a wide appeal."
The Future of Assassin's Creed
When I ask Côté to complete the sentence "The future of Assassin's Creed is..." he responds almost immediately and excitedly with "brilliant!" before realizing that he doesn't need to use only one word.
"I think the future of Assassin's Creed can be an intelligent form of entertainment in the sense that I have hope that, through opening the eyes of people without moralizing, without being didactic, by opening their eyes to the past and the different paths that all people on earth have had, we can better understand the present that we share," says Côté. "I know this is a lofty goal, but I truly believe in Ubisoft's mission that we can change the world through the games that we build, and I think Assassin's Creed can continue to be part of this aspiration for Ubisoft through this very important subject that we feature, which is human history. I have the chance to inherit and carry forward the work of thousands of passionate people who have made Assassin's Creed what it is. Together with the franchise team, I hope we can continue to work in the dark to serve the light.
The future of Assassin's Creed is one where we can be a source of hope in today's world, in helping people understand their past."
For more information on Assassin's Creed, be sure to read our summary of all the Assassin's Creed news at Ubisoft Forward, and for all the news from Ubisoft Forward, check out our entire event recap.