Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR is out now for Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest 3, and Meta Quest Pro, giving players the opportunity to embody a Master Assassin in virtual reality. A fully realized Assassin’s Creed game with open maps and free exploration, Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR lets players take on the roles of Ezio Auditore, Kassandra, and Connor in all-new adventures featuring first-person stealth, parkour, combat, and Leaps of Faith through Renaissance Italy, Ancient Greece, and colonial America.
Development on Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR was led by Ubisoft Red Storm (along with Ubisoft Düsseldorf, Ubisoft Reflections, Ubisoft Mumbai, Ubisoft Pune, Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Belgrade, Ubisoft Berlin, Ubisoft Quebec, and Ubisoft Leamington), and was completed under the guidance of Red Storm Managing Director Elizabeth Loverso, who stepped into the role a little over a year ago. We spoke with her and Creative Director David Votypka about how the game came together, the challenges of bringing the Assassin’s Creed experience to a standalone VR platform, and how the studio’s past experience with VR prepared it to make players feel like a Master Assassin.
What makes Ubisoft Red Storm especially well-positioned to bring a mega-franchise like Assassin's Creed to virtual reality?
Elizabeth Loverso: Red Storm’s been working on VR for quite a while. We have previously launched two successful titles with Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew, so when we were looking to capitalize on our experience as well as the strengths of VR hardware moving forward, we said, “what would really take gaming to the next level, that we could maximize in the VR space?” That naturally brought us to some of our bigger IP, Assassin's Creed being one of those where we felt like we could not only maximize on our experience delivering top-quality AAA games, but also our VR experience, and that we would put the two of those together to really deliver on a AAA game for the hardware.
David Votypka: For my part, I've been a VR fanatic for a long time. I'm super-passionate about it; immersive gaming is what I've wanted to do since the mid-‘90s, when I first discovered VR. But there's also strong passion and VR experience among the team at Red Storm from our time working on Werewolves Within and Star Trek: Bridge Crew. The experience of bringing Star Trek, another huge brand, to VR, was really exciting – and daunting, in the sense of responsibility to make sure we do it right.
We also have partner studios within Ubisoft, who we couldn't have done this without. The German studios with their experience in VR escape rooms brought some great knowledge and tech. The Canadian teams brought key staff from Eagle Flight. The UK studios provided many critical roles and leadership. The studios from Ubisoft India and Belgrade were also key in many areas, ranging from the “Living World” of civilians, to complex moments such as authoring the crowd scenes and assassination scenarios. This team is what we call a one-team structure, because we distributed development and leadership across all studios. It really was a Ubisoft worldwide effort.
Elizabeth, you’ve been managing director at Ubisoft Red Storm for a little over a year now, a role you took on after having worked at the studio for more than 24 years. What has the transition been like for you?
EL: In the past year, I've stepped more into the role of enhancing and improving the collaborations that go on between Ubisoft Red Storm and the other studios that we work with, really enabling the teams to do what they do best. While I have been enabling development here for over 20 years, this move is more at a high operational level, to make sure that the teams have what they need; through motivational strategies and production management; that we take a hands-on approach to the development of the games, making sure that we're putting out the best experiences possible.
To do that, you have to have an environment where people are happy and motivated so they can really go beyond what they think that they can accomplish and create the extraordinary. They need to feel supported, and to know that our strategy is to enable them to make the best games possible. The number-one thing is to make sure that they are empowered and have the ability to create, without the encumbrances of other things that come into play in the business realm.
Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR features certain things that feel like other Assassin’s Creed games – for example, you hold a button and press forward to parkour automatically – while also letting players use their body movements to feel as though they’re really fighting, climbing, and embodying an Assassin. How were you able to find that sweet spot where these gameplay styles feel natural together?
DV: There's a formula that dawned on me in the early days of Nexus, which is that VR design equals a balance of game design plus simulation design, and how those two are weighted on a scale, and need to coexist on a per-feature basis.
If we take the example of using a bow, players have an expectation of what it should feel like to shoot one. Simulating these real-world experiences is one of the fundamental goals of VR, and also one of the most compelling aspects of the medium.
But, going too far with the simulation design can make a VR mechanic either too difficult to use, or take away from the fun of your game design. For example, if the character becomes tired pulling back the bowstring, or the player needs weeks or months to learn how to be accurate with it; these are real-world/simulation aspects that can be worth subtracting out in order to make the most satisfying version of the feature for the game.
Another example is that we could have done a timed button-jump approach to parkour, where you would have had to continually press a button to make each parkour jump at the right moment. But that would have opened the door for mistiming it, falling, and feeling like a clumsy Assassin. We needed to offer players the same sense of being elite as the non-VR games do, so one of the core pillars of Nexus is that we strive to assist the player in performing like a Master Assassin.
Therefore, it’s about finding the optimal balance between feeling like you’re doing it for real, but with game design considerations in order to successfully deliver the core gameplay fantasy that the brand calls for.
What are your thoughts on developing for a standalone VR platform like Meta Quest, as opposed to PC- or console-powered VR?
EL: One of the cool things about the Quest is not being tethered, so you really can get into the moves in the game and embody the Assassin. And when you watch people play, they're doing the motions for climbing and parkour, they're sparring and attacking enemies as they come. You're removing the limits of earlier technology being wired with Quest 2 and Quest 3, and I think because it's not tethered, we can realize a lot more in our gameplay.
Were you able to take advantage of any of Meta Quest 3’s capabilities for the game?
DV: For Nexus, the main difference that players will notice is the visual fidelity – we can push our level of detail out further, the textures are sharper, that kind of thing. As we go forward with future games, the eye tracking in devices such as Quest Pro presents really interesting possibilities for what you can do for the player in VR. The short answer is, for Nexus on Quest 3, it's the visual upgrades, but as more tracking comes to future VR headsets, that opens up all sorts of doors for new VR mechanics and deeper presence.
EL: While the game was developed for Quest 2, we have done some optimizations for Quest 3 and it runs amazingly well. There's an additional comfort level that you gain with an even higher framerate, and the graphical fidelity is better, all adding to the play experience.
In Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR, players deploy the Hidden Blade by holding the trigger and flicking their wrists. Did it take a while to get that exactly right, or did you know exactly how it should feel from the jump?
DV: We didn't change that design, if I remember correctly, from the very first time we implemented it. This goes back to the simulation design that I was talking about earlier: What would you actually do to deploy the Hidden Blade in real life? You would flick your wrist open; that's what you see in the AC games, so therefore that's the gesture we wanted to put in. That was a clear choice from the very beginning, and even in the first prototypes, when people from the AC brand and other studios would come play it and just try that, they'd be like, “oh, this is awesome!” It was always an immediate thrill.
This is the first time Ubisoft Red Storm has been the lead studio on an Assassin's Creed game. Do you see this as potentially opening the door for more thematically diverse projects for Red Storm in the future?
EL: Red Storm has actually worked on quite a variety of titles, such as Far Cry and Rocksmith 2014, in addition to the Tom Clancy franchises Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, and The Division. I think what the studio likes to do is to create great games, and we will look to collaborate on the Ubi portfolio within our biggest brands and diversify our development efforts to tap into the talent that we have, and really enable the teams to create and develop compelling games that our players are going to want to play.
DV: One thing I'll add: In my time at Red Storm, with Liz and Steve Reid before her, we explored game concepts that were all over the map, from science fiction to social VR. Red Storm has always been very open to exploring all types of games, which has been really invigorating.
Right now, games like Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR are a rarity; what do you see as the key for enabling more AAA-style experiences to be developed for the VR space?
DV: The short answer is that the market and install base need to grow right now. Of course, we have the chicken and the egg problem: In order for the market to grow, we need more content; in order to fund more content, we need the market to grow. First-party and publisher investment is the way to break that chicken-and-egg cycle. The second part is that consumers need a parity of choice, because if their favorite brands and their favorite games are only available outside of VR, then it's going to keep VR being viewed as this niche market.
The IMAX analogy that I love to talk about is really relevant here: If you remember when IMAX first came out, it was just short documentaries, but all the big Hollywood films were not in IMAX theaters. Over time, they started converting Hollywood blockbuster films, like Apollo 13, to IMAX. In 2009, Avatar came out and it was kind of their killer app – people saw Avatar and were like, “Wow, that's awesome in IMAX!” Fast-forward to today, and when the latest Hollywood blockbusters come out, consumers have the choice to see them in regular theaters, or in the more immersive format of IMAX. That parity of choice is where we need to get with VR too.
Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR is out now for Meta Quest 2, Meta Quest 3, and Meta Quest Pro. For more details on the game, check out our Accessibility Spotlight with Game Director Olivier Palmieri, learn how Assassin’s Creed Nexus VR brings the full Assassin experience to VR in our hands-on preview, and read our earlier interviews with Elizabeth Loverso and David Votypka.