‘Assassin’s Creed IV’ offers first person “fan service” and introduces white whale sharing

Assassin's Creed IV Black Flag (dreadpirate)

When players sit down to explore the life of pirate-assassin Edward Kenway in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, they’ll be doing so from the perspective of a brand new Abstergo Entertainment employee. With Desmond Miles’ story having come to an end in Assassin’s Creed III, a new era begins for the series, and it’s one that Ubisoft wants players directly involved in.

Ashraf Ismail
Ashraf Ismail, ‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’ director

A little background first: Abstergo Entertainment is a modern-day company run by the Templars, the antagonistic face of the Assassin’s Creed series, and the creators of the Animus machines that modern day characters use to experience firsthand the lives of people in the past. Abstergo’s been present in every AC game so far, but its Entertainment division serves as a narrative wrapper for both the Assassin’s Creed Project Legacy Facebook game and Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, the PlayStation Vita-exclusive spin-off. With Desmond and his storyline both gone, the Abstergo Entertainment conceit now pushes the series’ main narrative forward in Black Flag.

“The idea is that it’s you [exploring Edward Kenway’s life in the present day],” AC4 director Ashraf Ismail tells Digital Trends. “It’s played in first-person. You don’t have an avatar, per se. So you are walking around in this office, it’s a mini-open world. There’s a lot to do with it. In the main path we don’t go to it too many times, we only go to it a few times. But for the true fans who love that kind of stuff, there is a huge load of content in this world that’s there to kind of give homage to our fans, develop the lore even further.”

“It’s all optional, so if you want to put the time into it, it’s there for you [and] if you don’t really care, it’s okay. You don’t have to. There’s tons of videos, tons of images to find, you get to see what happened to Desmond after AC3. A lot of stuff for our fans. We actually looked at it as fan service.”

“There’s tons of videos, tons of images to find, you get to see what happened to Desmond after AC3.”

As a fan of the series you probably already know walking in that Abstergo is bad news, but your in-game self is a new employee. The goal is to put a personal spin on your growing knowledge of both the company and of the man’s life that you’ve been asked to research via the Animus. In previous AC games, trips to the present-day as Desmond created an opportunity to fill in some of the details of the series’ bigger story. The same is true in Black Flag, but the way you experience that exposition is changed.

“The Animus technology has progressed to allow anybody to use it. We don’t have Desmond anymore, but anyone can jump into his bloodline. That’s kind of the basic setup,” Ismail says. “You’re not really sure why you’re researching him; you’re just doing your job. Then, eventually as the story unfolds, you kind of see that the conniving behind-the-scenes details of why this may serve a purpose to the Templars, and why do they need to know what he did in his life. There’s a bigger progression that’s happening there in the present day, and Edward has a huge impact on that.”

Assassins Creed 4 whale

The only aspect of the game that doesn’t work into the meta-framework of your Abstergo “job” is multiplayer. Ismail admits that the original plan was to have Black Flag‘s online play accessible from the in-office Animus, but it quickly became clear why that wouldn’t work. “The problem that we found very quickly was… I want to play multiplayer, I have to load the single player, if I’m in the past I have to exit the past– it just created too many roadblocks.”

The idea of multiple Abstergo employees fiddling with the Animus is leveraged in other ways, however. Particularly on next-gen platforms, in embracing the idea of “always connected” play that Microsoft and Sony both have been espousing since the new hardware was announced. 

“We have these really rare events in the world that can happen. If you play for 48 hours, you might see one. An example would be the white whale. Seeing the white whale, which is a unique [and] it has unique resources that you can gain from it, if you have a lot of friends and they’re all playing, they’re all Abstergo employees researching Edward… when one of them sees this event, any one of them, they can very quickly with one button press share it to all their friends,” Ismail explains.

AC4“What it does is it actually plops that event into your world, so now that event exists in your world. You see an icon for it and it’ll live for about 24 hours. So if you don’t want to do it then it’ll disappear and you just missed out on it. But you have an advantage in being able to share these types of events with your friends. It’s cool that you have a lot of people that are sharing all these events. There’s the white whale, but there’s also special convoys, special treasure chests, and they’re all linked to the system. So the idea is we want you to feel like your friends are co-workers with you at Abstergo.”

“The idea is we want you to feel like your friends are co-workers with you at Abstergo.”

This particular feature is unique to the unreleased consoles, but Black Flag is a cross-gen game, and the dev team’s aim was to produce an experience that is roughly equivalent, regardless of the platform that you’re playing on. With the exception of a handful of features – including some that aren’t announced, but that will make use of new peripherals like the improved Kinect and DualShock 4 – Ismail says the differences are negligible.

“The core AC experience is the same across all platforms. Everything to do with what is seamless and what is not is pretty much the same. About 95-percent of the world is seamless, except for the major cities and two other locations that are massive jungles,” he explains. “On next-gen, the [loading time] is insignificant. It’s a flash. Current-gen is a bit longer. For sure the immersion of how much stuff we’re able to populate in the world, it’s a bit more intense on next-gen.”

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