March 28, 2019

8 Min Read

assassins creedassassins creed odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey – Bringing A Script To Life

Spoilers for the first few hours of Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Early on in Assassin's Creed Odyssey, you are confronted with a weighty decision: kill your father, Nikolaos of Sparta, or spare his life. Playing through the scene, it can be easy to be swept up in the conversation and action and forget that it all started with a script. The tense scene stands out due to the emotional performances from Melissanthi Mahut [Kassandra], Michael Antonakos [Alexios], and Elias Toufexis [Nikoloas], but before they uttered a single word, it was up to a writer to intricately plan the scene.

We often think of scripts as just dialogue, but they communicate so much more, including tone, actions, and feelings that help guide a performance. For a look at the script that inspired this powerful confrontation, check out the video below, then read on for insights from the narrative designer who oversaw the creation of this scene, Stephen Rhodes.

Video inspired by Script to Screen

The first few hours of the game build up to meeting Nikolaos; what sort of emotion did you want players to feel during the encounter?

I always knew, going into this scene, that the confrontation with your father needed to be emotionally charged. Kassandra/Alexios have a lot of mixed feelings about their father. He was someone who they looked up to, respected, and even loved. To have someone you trust betray you in such a terrible way as he does creates an incredible emotional conflict within the character. I wanted the tension to be there when they first meet, and to have those emotions come out as the conversation flows between them. I didn't want them to go into it already at full speed; I wanted to capture that uncertainty as the two characters come to terms with seeing each other again for the first time in years.

How has the script evolved from when it was first written to what we see in-game today?

We knew what we needed to deliver for the main story beat, and other than that, I was free to play with the approach I took. I knew it was an important moment, so I took my time with the first draft. I hit upon most of the core notes of the scene early on, and so the framework we iterated upon largely stayed the same throughout the process.

We toyed around with different questions and conversation paths in the hubs, but we ended up keeping the core things we thought the protagonist would want to ask their father after all this time. One thing we added in afterward was the warning Nikolaos gives you as he leaves or dies, which helps add an extra layer of mystery and suspense to the tragic scene.

You've worked on some narrative-heavy games in the past. What did you learn from those projects that you brought over to ACOD?

I learn a lot from every game I work on, but when it comes to narrative, I've learned some very crucial lessons regarding choices and characterization. In a large game like Odyssey, the player meets so many characters, and it's important to make sure they all feel distinct, and have their own clear motives and ideologies. They have to feel like real people with real problems that we as players can relate to and empathize with. When it comes to characters, I've always tried to inject personality into each and every one, even if it's just a certain phrase they use, or a way of speaking.

When it comes to choices in games like Odyssey, I think it's important to make the choices feel clear, but the result ambiguous. I don't want players to come to a choice hub and see a good choice and bad choice. Interesting choices, ones that make you put down the controller and really think about what you're about to choose, they're the morally gray ones where you don't know what to expect, and you have to go with your gut because that better reflects the choices we have to make in our own lives.

A script communicates so much more than just dialogue. Are all of those things planned at the beginning, or do those details develop more as the scene is acted out in real life?

When I write a script, I try and include as much direction as I can for the audio team, cinematics team, and voice actors. If I feel like a character will take a certain action, or say a line with a specific emotional undertone, I include it. However, making games is very collaborative, and I'm lucky to work with some of the most talented developers in the videogame industry. The other people who work on a scene will always offer their own input and suggestions that will help elevate and improve it for the player. That never really stops; even when recording the dialogue, we get a lot of input from the actor, who will make suggestions and offer alternatives in line delivery that I hadn't considered. It's a wonderfully collaborative process, and it's very rewarding, seeing all of the energy and work come together to create the final experience.

What is the experience like working with the voice actors when they are recording dialogue? What sort of feedback to you give them? What do you learn from hearing them perform?

We have been very lucky, on the production of Assassin's Creed Odyssey, to work with some incredibly talented actors. I always have a great time recording dialogue with them. They're fun to work with, and they have a lot of experience to offer in order to make the character feel or sound better. When we are recording, I'll usually give direction on line delivery to ensure certain beats are being hit, or certain things are emphasized within the dialogue. It always feels like a character doesn't truly come alive until you hear their voice, and every character has their own, even if it's a subtle difference. I always try to imagine how they sound in my head when I write them, but it's always great when you offer these suggestions to an actor and then the voice they give them matches your idea perfectly.

The actor brings as much to a character with their performance as I do with writing their lines, so for me it's the moment where the character feels fully rounded. I worked closely with Michael Antonakos [Alexios], Melissanthi Mahut [Kassandra], and Elias Toufexis [Nikolaos] during the motion capture of the scene, and they all brought incredible performances that really sold the emotional notes we were aiming for. Elias really helped bring Nikolaos to life, and added a lot of character to him through his performance. It was amazing to watch the character come to life in front of me.

What does it mean to you to see your words come to life in the final product?

It means everything to me. I'm always very proud to see my words come to life within the game, and it makes all of the hard work getting it to that stage feel totally worth it. I always have an idea in my head on how a scene is going to play out when I write it, but by the time the cinematic designer has done their work and the voice actor has added their performance, it always feels like its own thing that I was just coaxing to life. It's surreal to see my words acted out in videogames, and when a scene I have written still has the power to make me feel things, I know that's a sign that I've hit upon something good with my work.

Did you kill or spare Nikolaos when you played the final game?

I spared Nikolaos. He's a complicated character, and I think he always wanted to do the right thing, even if he felt misguided. I don't blame players who decide to kill him for his actions, but I think if you give him a second chance and show him the mercy he didn't show you, then he might surprise you.

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